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

How to Grow Some Herbs in My Kitchen

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When we (my husband, Steve, and I) redid our kitchen, many years ago, I insisted on having a kitchen window above the sink area because knew I wanted to put some plants in there.

OUR KITCHEN GARDEN WINDOW

Our kitchen garden window faces south and sticks out and is about 3 feet by 2 feet, and it has a long shelf in the middle, so I can put plants on the shelf above or below at the counter sink height. The window gets colder in the winter because it is sticking out and experiences the cold air around it. In the summer, however, it gets very warm at times, but I can vent it by cranking open the side window panels. But in either scenario, the kitchen window was useful for not only putting some smaller winter plants in there, but to put some herbs in there for use in my cooking. The kitchen window type looks like the ones on this Pinterest page: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/460070918175924579/

This little area, if you happen to have a similar kitchen window over your sink in your home, is a decent place to grow some kitchen herbs. But some herbs are easier to grow than others, especially if you are a beginner not knowing where to start.

Easy Herbs

In my opinion, parsley and salad mixes are two easy seeds to give a try. Salad mixes are not herbs, but I wanted to mention them because many leafy salad mixes are easy to grow from seed and put in a smaller container in the kitchen window, and so is parsley. If you are a beginner, grab some seed of these now (or buy from me) and then start your venture of growing herbs for the first time in your kitchen (and from seed)!

Other herbs you may see listed as easy to grow from seed in the kitchen are basil, chives, and mint.

Basils (needs warmth!)

I agree on the basil, it is easy to sow and grow EXCEPT it has to be warm. They will not do well if your kitchen window (like mine that sticks out) when it is cooler – which is the case right now in winter. So basils, I would not recommend in a cool spot during the winter months. You may start basil in seedling trays if you wish and if you have a warm, sunny spot in your home. In the summer months, you can continuously sow the seed all summer for a steady ongoing supply, but they are very sensitive to cold temperatures.

In the summer months, a kitchen garden window with enough sunlight is a great place to grow your basils in pots if you wanted. There is also a type of basil I tried last season, sacred basil, which is primarily used in teas. I have seed available too if nearby and interested. What I liked about the sacred basil is it grew fast and plentiful in my patio pots and it bloomed all summer. The bees adored it. In fact, I rather enjoyed it as a decorative plant maybe more so than harvesting it as a tea.

The only thing to consider if you want to try basil from seed to have in your kitchen window, it is best if you find a warm location in your home to start them in a seedling tray (somewhere warmer), otherwise they will suffer the kitchen window in the winter months. The types of basil I have grown from seed are Thai, Genovese Basil (big leaves great for pesto and other things!), and Sacred basil.

We all love basil for kitchen gardening, and you may start seedling trays of it ahead indoors and transplant it to patio pots in the summer months. I have done this with several types of basils. Usually I start them by seed in April (4 weeks before our last frost date) to transplant into pots or move outdoors in late May. I’m not trying to discourage growing basil from seed cause it is not that difficult to do but it does need warmth.

Basil is definitely a kitchen desire however, we all love basils, at least I do and I must have it for adding to fresh tomatoes. It is so easy to use. Just chop it up, add it to warm pasta with fresh cut up tomatoes, no cooking and toss – add some cheese, and wow, yummy! But all I’m saying is basil likes warmth to grow well from seed.

Cathy Testa’s Herbs – She also sells these in May

Chives (New for me)

Chives is a new one for me to try and I have seed, so I will comment on that later this season. I love adding flavors to dishes, and chives has that oniony like flavor, so I picked it to test out this season. It also has an upright habit and I think will do fine in smaller pots, or in a kitchen window garden. However, some chives are considered aggressive in the outdoor gardens, which I will research. I’m only alerting you to this in the event you are considering growing herbs from seeds and transplanting them outdoors later in the summer. While some sites will say chives are easy to start, I haven’t tried them yet so I can not comment. I’ve also seen dill and cilantro as listed easy which I disagree on only because I’ve seen those suffer more as plants than other herbs. The type of seed I got for chives is a perennial herb, so it will come back the following season when grown in the ground. But you may start chives indoors and eat them like scallions. Even their purple round flowers are edible and look pretty in salads!

Mint (Cuttings are easy)

Mint – yes, easy to grow BUT mint is very aggressive in the ground, so if you decided you wanted to grow some mint in your kitchen window, you could try this one but if you wanted to transplant it to the garden outdoors, don’t do that – it spreads by the roots like wild fire. It is a okay outdoors in patio pots and containers where the roots are contained (and sitting on a surface which is not the ground, the roots will come out of the drain holes and go into the earth).

Mint is fun to grab snips of it when you are having fresh cocktails outdoors in the summer. Mint is not just for teas either. I like tossing it with fresh warm pasta right out of the strainer and adding fresh parmesan cheese and a bit of frozen bagged peas – sounds funny but it is yummy! And so simple. I don’t even cook the peas, I just make sure to toss it all when the pasta is very warm from the pot, and all the fresh flavors blend. If you like mint flavors, like I do. My cousin, Maryse, makes a watermelon feta salad with mint in the summer, it is just delicious!

However, I must admit, I have not started mint from seeds only because mint is so easy to find in garden centers AND it is very easy to start mint by taking cuttings. Just snip some stems, stick in water on your window sill, and roots will form. Then transplant to a pot in your kitchen garden and it grows easily. Then continue to harvest leaves, stems, or snips for your many recipes. I tend to put mint as a spiller plant (a plant which trails or spills from the edge of pots) in the outdoor container gardens in the summer months because they tend to grow fast and large (maybe too large for a kitchen garden). Everything from chocolate mint to orange mint. I have not grown mint from seeds yet.

Now let’s get back to the parsley and salad mixes, two easy ones.

Parsley (Can take cooler temps)

Parsley will germinate (begin to sprout/grow from seeds) a bit slower than other herbs, but it is easy to grow from the time it surfaces from the soil. It is also very easy to sow into a pot. Last year, I grew curly parsley (top left in the photo above). This year I’m growing the flat-leaf Italian parsley from seed, which will be a larger type of plant compared to curly parsley, but I love parsley – so each type to grow from seed is great for me.

I do find that flat leaf parsley is more flavorful, but I used the curly parsley all winter! Yes, I grew it from seed and hung baskets of it from my curtain rod in the area to the right of my kitchen sink. There is a slider door there and I hung it up and let them grow. I clipped from it so many times, I can’t count. I used it in pasta sauces (guess I like pasta), soups, sometimes fresh on a salad for a bit of parsley flavor and crunch, and to top other things. Kind of using the curly parsley as a garnish which you eat.

And parsley just continues to grow as you take snips from it. However, I did notice that it did not grow as vigorously as it did in my greenhouse. My greenhouse has lots of sun light on sunny days in the winter, so it thrived there, but when I moved it to my kitchen slider window, it slowed down a bit but still was plentiful. I will get to light in a minute, but overall what I am saying is parsley is a candidate if you are a beginner.

Parsley may be started 8 weeks before frost indoors which is around mid-March for my area of Connecticut, but because it doesn’t mind the cooler weather, I have sowed parsley all winter in my greenhouse and then I moved them to indoors to my south facing kitchen slider. If you have a warmer window in the home with sunlight, parsley is easier as a first type of herb to try from seed compared to basil. One thing to bear in mind with parsley seeds is they can be slow to germinate, but once they surface they grow fast.

Salad Mixes

Salad is not an herb but it is another kitchen item you could try that is simpler in my opinion to grow from seed. And salad mixes don’t mind the cooler temperatures in the kitchen window. But, in the summer, if the salad mix gets too hot – it bolts (shoots up flowers) and isn’t as tasty. Another great thing about salad mixes is you may cut from them from your pot or indoor window box and they will grow and grow continuously usually for a while, until you eat it all up. They like the cooler temps.

You can cut from it to have it at a baby leaf stage and add your herbs, such as the chives, basil, and parsley – and voila, you are a chef in the kitchen. Plus, taking snips of salad leaves off these right in your kitchen is kind of fun. And pretty. Salad mixes are typical various greens and look pretty together.

When I say salad mixes, I mean leafy salad (unlike romaine or something like head lettuce). It is also called Salad Greens, rather than lettuce, if you look for seed packets. I often sow salad mix seed in smaller window boxes. And usually start the seed I have in early March at the 10 week before frost date. Here’s a photo of a mix I did in a smaller window box. See how wonderful the mix of greens look! Think of this, March is around the corner. Only 2 weeks away from when I’m writing this (which today is 2/11/2021).

Self Watering Pots

My sister, Rosalie, contacted me after she saw how I had parsley baskets hanging from my curtain rod in my kitchen area. She is going to hang some pots in-front of her kitchen window this year. Her window does not stick out but it is right above her kitchen and gets sun. She is going to give it a try.

One recommendation I gave Rosalie was to use “self-watering” pots – those which have no hole in the bottom and are inserted into another holding pot, so it won’t drip down on her counters. A water reservoir sits below the pot to water the plants, but you have to be cautious of not overwatering because it does not drain out either. Wet roots are not good so anyhow, the reason I said self-watering is because they won’t drip.

However, for a kitchen area, these work well. And by the way, if you go get window boxes to try this, be sure it has a drain tray below it – otherwise when you water, it will drip out onto your surfaces. Most window boxes are designed with that little tray below it.

Hanging baskets of curly parsley growing this winter at Cathy T’s Home

How to Start

Now, onto the how to’s.

To keep it simple, here are my recommendations:

(1) Determine if you have a warm enough spot in the home. If you have a kitchen window like mine, and it faces south or west, it is doable. If it faces north, you won’t get enough sun and usually north facing windows are colder and too cold. East is questionable as well. You only get morning sun in an east window. But the south and west windows typically get decent sunlight. You need sun to make your plants thrive. No sun, no plants.

(2) Get the easy seeds, and if you are local, I have seed packets and kits available and will guide you. Local is East Windsor, Connecticut or nearby towns, such as Ellington, South Windsor, Enfield, Windsor Locks, etc. I am offering free delivery to local residents in my town (East Windsor, CT) right now.

Bag kits by Cathy Testa of Container Crazy CT

Another tip: Don’t buy too many seed packets – seeds for parsley are usually plentiful in a packet! A packet of parsley could fill many smaller pots (like 5-6″ in diameter) as an example. At least the seed packets I sell have lots of seeds, up to 200 hundred for parsley. And one more tip, parsley seeds do not last long, you should use them the first or second year tops.

Kits by Cathy T.

(3) Get your containers, pots, smaller window boxes, or whatever you want to start your seeds in. Again, parsley can be directly sown (seeded) in the pot to start them. You don’t need to start them in seedling trays and transplant them into your pots. You can sow them directly in the pots or window boxes which I recommend get smaller sizes for the pots or window boxes. This is the case with the salad mix as well. It may be sown/seeded directly into the window box to start them from seeds indoors. Key thing is make sure whatever pot you have has some type of drainage holes. That is critical and self-watering pots drain to a pot as well but it drains into a reservoir. If other pots or window boxes don’t have holes, you will need to drill them. And of course, consider the weight of the pots – maybe you will hang them from macramé hangers and if they are heavy, they could be an issue. Think about the area and sizes.

(4) Get your seedling mix sold in bags. Potting mix (for container gardens, patio pots) works too. Do not use dirt from the ground! It is too dense and does not drain well, will be too heavy and could harbor many problems. Get at least 4 to 6 quarts of seedling mix and make sure the bag is fresh, etc. Seedling mix is written on the bag and should be available now at your local garden centers or stores like Agway. And again, my kits have some mix in the kits to start your sowing of seeds indoors. Pre-moisten the mix a bit before you put it into your pots.

(5) Sow the parsley or salad mix seed directly into the top of the pot filled with your seedling mix to about 1/4″ from the top. Only a few seeds (some say a pinch of like 5-6 seeds) and lightly cover it (the seeds) with seedling mix. I give specifics on seeds in my kits but the seed packet also tells you the depth of the seed, etc. Since the seed are so tiny for parsley and salad mixes, you scatter it over the top of the soil and gently cover it with the seedling mix. Then water gently – I give more details in my instructions to buyers so this is in simple terms.

(6) Place them in a warmer location if possible at first – say your kitchen bay like window is cold like mine in the winter, it will be too cold to germinate the seeds, but if you have warm spot – like a window with the heating radiator below it or maybe even on the floor near a slider window that faces south or west, or a table in a warm spot in your home by a window with some sun, start them there then hang them in your window or place them into your garden kitchen window after they germinate or place them on the shelf in the kitchen window.

Similar to what I did with my baskets of herbs, I started them in a warmer spot, they germinated (sprouted) and grew a little, and then I hung them on the south facing slider window area for as long as they lasted. If the area where you are trying to get the seeds to sprout is too cold, it will be very slow to germinate and not sprout from the soil. Hope this is making sense. On top of it – parsley seed is slower in general to germinate – just how that seed is, so be patient. If you want to take it a step higher, get a heat mat to put below the pots or window box, and or get some grow lights.

Or if your kitchen garden window gets lots of sun, you may start them there. But a cold area in the home is a no-go. If you have a sun room for example, and it is cold, it won’t work. If you have a window with a big cold draft, that will keep the potting or seedling mix too cold. Roots do not like cold and it will slow the growth.

Grocery store herbs

Oh, another quick thought – those herbs you buy in the grocery store that are in little black pots with soil. I don’t find they continue to grow all that well in winter inside the home (especially the basil). But in the summer, basil are easier to keep growing either indoors or outdoors (again because they like warmth). This is just based on my experience. I’ve been working with plants for 10 years, and every time I didn’t have basil handy, and grabbed one of those pots in the grocery store, and placed it on my kitchen bay window area, it kind of didn’t thrive. Probably, again because the bay kitchen window is too cold in the winter.

Delivery Valentines Day Theme – Get to add with your chocolates or wine gifts!

I hope this post helps you if you are a beginner. I’ve done all my gardening in pots of all shapes and sizes, and this is referred to as “container gardening.” Gardening with herbs in pots or window boxes to me, is a form of container gardening. Container gardening is a great way to learn. There are tons of sites out there with tips on how to grow herbs, and I sense many want to grow herbs indoors in their kitchen. Start off small and learn. Let me know how you make out! Comment below. Thanks!!

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT
Location: Broad Brook Section of East Windsor, CT

Growing Dwarf Tomatoes and Are They Easier to Grow?

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

Mandurang Moon Dwarf

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

Mandurang Moon next to a Fox Cherry Tomato

SLOW TO NO GERMINATION

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

Mandurang Moon Tomato – Only a few germinated

THIS DWARF PLANT NEEDED MORE WARMTH

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

Size and color of this dwarf Mandurang Tomato fruit

COLD TEMPERATURES WILL PREVENT GERMINATION

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

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

CLOUDY DAYS OF WINTER

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

VIABLE SEEDS

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

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

NUTURED THOSE WHICH DID SPROUT

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

TIMING IS 6 TO 8 WEEKS BEFORE FROST

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

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

Thank you,

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

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

My Honey harvesting our Honey Drop Cherry Tomatoes

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

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

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

Grow Bag with my Beautiful Tomato Plant growing along smoothly

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

Honey Drop Cherry Tomato 2020

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

AS CLOSE TO A HONEY TASTE AS YOU CAN GET

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

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

Steve harvesting them from the ladder

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

FABRIC GROW BAGS ARE HANDY

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

Honey Drop Cherry tomatoes

OTHER TYPES OF CHERRY TOMATOES

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

Reaching in to find them all

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

WHEN TO SOW THE SEEDS

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

A FEW SEED PACKETS AVAILABLE

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

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

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

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

Protecting my Tomatoes from Squirrels

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Netting the Tomatoes

The squirrels discovered my beautiful Upstate Oxheart tomatoes on my deck last year and out of frustration, I decided to net them with plastic fruit type netting. You can see from this photo, the tomatoes are huge. The seed packet details these as “a stunner: huge, heart-shaped, and delicious fruit,” all of which is very accurate.

GROWING FROM SEED

I have grown these from seed the past couple years and I was super impressed with the yield, sizes of the fruit (2-3 lbs), and exceptional light but favorable sweet taste. Additionally, they really do look like the inside of a heart when you slice them open. Both my husband and I enjoyed eating these beauties, and it didn’t take long for a squirrel to spot them up on my high level deck along the railing last season last summer at the peak of their tomato’s ripening phases. They ripen to a rosy pink color.

FABRIC GROW BAGS

I grew them in my black fabric grow bags last year and the plants grew large and some of the branches hung over the railing of the deck. Each time I’d witness a fruit starting to turn slightly pink, I started to worry about a squirrel discovering them – which they did and that was starting to get really annoying. Nothing is more frustrating then seeing a big bite out of a huge tomato just about to ripen to maximum perfection! Ugh!

DID THE NETTING WORK?

Did the white plastic netting, surrounding the fruit only, work? Kind of. I didn’t see them munch on them in the nets, but I also got accustom to taking the fruits off the plant before they were fully ripened so the squirrel wouldn’t have a chance either. Then I would let the tomato fruit finish ripening on the counter. This worked just fine for this type of tomato – meaning it ripened with no big issues right on the counter.

WHEN TO START THE SEEDS

I didn’t order new seeds of this type this season because I still have some packets left from 2020 and they are still very much viable, but I probably will not sow all of them, or if I do, just a limited amount this year because I am excited to try new types of tomato and have new 2021 seed for the newbies on my seed sowing list.

But this type of tomato needs to be started early. The upstate oxhearts seeds should be started 6-10 weeks before our last spring frost date. Last year, I started them at the 10 week mark, but this season, I’m going to wait to start them a little later. I found they grew quite large in the greenhouse and some needed to be potted up into gallon pots, so I made a note to maybe start them more like at the 8 week mark and see how that goes.

HARD WIRED MESH IN A BIG POT WORKED

The squirrels seem to be more aware of my goodies the past two years. The year prior, I grew the upstate oxheart tomatoes in a giant black plastic pot, which is 3 feet tall, so kind of my waist height. I inserted 3 feet long bamboo poles into the pot along the top rim and then surround the whole thing with hard-wired mesh. That definitely kept out any critters, like squirrels or groundhogs, but it was difficult for me to “reach in” to get the tomatoes. However, it did prevent any unwelcomed diners from visiting the fruit. The pot also was located in a place that was a job to drag my garden hose to it to water, but it worked at keeping critters away! In fact, I found those really big pots to be useful that way – they can’t easily climb up the pot and into the big pots, but for those in grow bag last year, on my deck, squirrels would sometimes jump from a tree limb onto a deck railing to go investigate. We decided to trim back some trees near the end of the deck to make it more difficult for them.

SQUIRRELS WON’T STOP ME

The whole issue of squirrels visiting the tomato fruits is a big problem it seems for many, but for myself, I know it won’t stop me from growing tomatoes again this year. One neat thing that happened with the plastic mesh (shown in the photo above) is a cross-cross pattern appeared on the skin of the fruit. It developed a pattern! That was interesting.

I suppose I will keep testing more techniques to keep the squirrels away. I read that hot pepper spray may work, and there are probably some products on the market. But for now, my strategy is a) not to give up, b) pick the fruit before it is fully ripe, c) yell at the squirrels, and or d) grow them in that super-sized pot again that is so high up and wrap the whole thing in hard type of mesh wire. Gosh, the things we do for fresh juicy tomatoes.

WHEN THEY RIPEN

Upstate oxheart tomatoes ripen 84 days from transplanting the seedlings into your pots or gardens. They are indeterminate plants so they will keep growing taller and produce fruit continuously. Pruning or staking them is necessary or letting the branches (vines) topple over my deck railing worked well. The plant can reach up to 10 feet high. It sprawls out and around and when I grew them in that big black pot I mentioned above, the hard-wired mesh I put around it served to help support it as well. The fruits, which can grow to 3 lbs sizes, are heavy so that extra support is helpful.

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

COMMENTS Please! If you enjoyed this post – please comment by clicking the red block on the top. I would love to hear what you have used to keep squirrels way from your tomatoes in the summer.

When to sow seeds

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The quick answer is, if you live in my area of Connecticut, usually early to mid-March for some plants. But each type of warm season vegetable has a bit of different timing as to when to sow the seeds indoors ahead of the planting season. And the best way to double-check those timings is by looking at the seed packets and/or following specific seed sowing guides.

For beginners, it may feel overwhelming to do all the planning homework on when you should start start sowing your seeds for your favorite tomato or hot pepper plants. But knowing when to start is key. Many people start by buying packets without really knowing the timing, and that is sometimes a mistake if the seeds are not ordered on time and/or if they don’t realize the growing requirements of the plant itself.

If you start sowing seeds indoors too early, things get messy. The plant will be too large and root bound before you are able to safely plant it outdoors (after frost in May). If you start too late, you are basically not giving the plant enough time to produce fruit (and that would be a major disappointment).

I think what is even more important than knowing when to sow the seeds indoors, is when to get your supplies ready.

Last year, with the onset of COVID, people discovered many seed sources were so bombarded with orders that the seed sources were sold out or delayed due to shipping issues associated with COVID. This may result in a major problem, you definitely need the seeds on time to start them on time.

This issue, however, actually allowed me to sell seed packets and seed sowing kits I had already assembled for an upcoming farmers market talk in early spring last year, which was also cancelled due to COVID.

I quickly let everyone know I had them available and people came by to pick them up from me via zero-contact porch pick-ups. The whole process was a fun adventure for me and people told me they enjoyed not only my seed selections but my instructions and guides.

In my opinion, you should really start to think about the whole preparation process right now in late January or at least by early February.

Why? Because you need several items to sow your seeds: seedling trays, seedling mix, and a set-up (place in the home with sufficient light) or you may even need to purchase grow lights to hang over your seedling trays.

I’ve created 3 guides which I included in the packages for anyone who buys seed packets from me or seed sowing kits. Each guide is a bit different.

One guide is a chart which shows when to sow the seed, how many weeks it will take for the plants to be ready, when to plant it outdoors safely. It is a nice one-pager for reference.

Another chart I provide is a new one I created this year, which is also a one-pager and it shows “the weeks before frost” specifically for the seeds I am offering this season. If you wish to learn which seeds are available, just email or text me (see below information) or visit http://www.WORKSHOPSCT.com.

In other words, each type of plant must be started a number of weeks before your last spring frost date. My “weeks before” chart lists shows the 10 week mark, 6-8 week mark, 4-6 week, 2-4 week, etc. For example, some hot peppers are started 10 weeks before, which is early March (when to sow).

Lastly, a chart I provided last year was an actual “calendar month by month.” It is similar to wall calendars. I’m still thinking about if I should do this one again, or just use the new “weeks before chart.”

But the general point is – all of this information took lots of time for me to assemble for you to make it easier for you to do your sowing.

My seeds are primarily focused on warm season vegetables such as the tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, hot peppers. I hand-pick new varieties each year based on their uniqueness, taste, and if they are heirloom, etc. I also pick out parsleys, basils (3 types), and chives, etc.

I also created a chart for young kids which is a way to record the progress of the seeds. I’m liking this idea more and more to include with anyone who buys seeds and/or seed starting kits from me for their kids to use as additional education tools.

Photo sent to me by a mom – she was hardening off the plants she sowed from my seed kits with her daughter

Another reason why planning is so important is because plants growing indoors from seed need to be hardened off before you put them into container gardens or patio pots (or gardens) after frost in the spring. This process occurs one to two weeks before you plant them outdoors permanently. It is a process to acclimate the seedlings to the outdoor environment.

Once of the best parts of offering the seeds and sowing kits is that I hear feedback from buyers of how wonderful their harvest is – and yes, sometimes there is feedback of issues (the dreaded tomato hornworm). But that is all part of the learning process.

A couple of my buyers have children. I absolutely adored when one mom sent me a photo of her daughter holding a huge Upstate Oxheart tomato next to her face. These tomatoes plants grow huge tomatoes, and it was super fun for them. And they sent me of a photo of a tomato on a kitchen scale weighing 2 lbs. too. They were thrilled, and it still brings a big smile to my face knowing my help got them into growing and enjoying their new hobby.

So cute!

The more I hear of the kids with their parents or their grandparents (the cool ones! LOL), the happier I am that they experienced the sowing process together. This year, I picked a really compact and tiny tomato variety that I think will be much fun for kids (and adults).

But it all starts when you decide to give it a go. Here is a tip sheet if you are considering it for this season.

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
Located in Broad Brook, CT
By appts, pick-ups, mailings, and drop offs
See more at http://www.WORKSHOPSCT.com

Dealing with Fungus gnats in Potting Mixes

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I picked up my bags of potting mix soil early this year. It felt even a bit crazy, to be driving to go get them, when there were very cold temps outdoors that day, yet, it was a very sunny winter day and I was enjoying that part of it. But I did pause to think, “Am I getting these too early?”

Last year, I used more bags of potting mix than I expected, and I am constantly potting up plants, moving succulent babies into small pots, repotting larger plants, then comes seed starting soon where both my potting mix and seedling mix is used in trays. I also use some in my container installs later in the season, and it is kind of endless. I even repot houseplants for people from time to time. So, I need potting mix, and lots of it.

One thing I have noticed a lot lately, on various Facebook group pages related to gardening, plants, and interior houseplants, is the constant frustrations by people, some are newbies, some are not, on how they get fungus gnats in their houseplant pots inside their home. Everyone suggests a remedy they have tried from putting cinnamon on the soil to using hydrogen peroxide, misquote bits, and other home remedies. Whatever their remedy is, there is a growing (no pun intended) frustration with issues such as fungus gnats in the pots of plants and it has to be difficult for people to accept, especially when it gets out of control. They want to succeed and keep their plants healthy, but they encounter something like this and it drives them nuts.

Here’s a fact sheet about fungus gnats from Cornell, if you wish to read about them in formal, technical terms: http://www.greenhouse.cornell.edu/pests/pdfs/insects/FG.pdf

No growing mixes are immune to fungus gnat infestation, but fungus gnat numbers can vary among growing mixes. Adults are strongly attracted to microbial activity in soil/media. For fungus gnat management, avoid immature composts (<1yr old), including composted pine bark mix. Mixes with any compost are usually more attractive to fungus gnats than pure sphagnum peat. Good sanitation is vital.

Fungus Gnat Biology and Control
J.P. Sanderson

I thought this statement above from the Cornell fact sheet by J.P. Sanderson was key, especially when he wrote, “no growing mixes are immune to fungus gnat infestation” and also the part about mixes with compost are usually more attractive to fungus gnats. In other words, to me anyhow, the more sterile and clean the mix, the less likely you will get the dreaded FGs (fungus gnats) in the potting mix when the conditions are right for them to start up in the pot (such as moisture and temperature).

For monitoring adults, yellow sticky traps placed horizontally at soil level are most effective. However, fungus gnats can be monitored along with most other flying greenhouse pests by positioning yellow sticky traps vertically just above the crop canopy.

Fungus Gnat Biology and Control
J.P. Sanderson

Many times, on these gardening Facebook pages, people will say, “I use those yellow sticky tapes” to get rid of them, but in my opinion, those do not get rid of them – they MONITOR them. As noted above, these are useful to keep track of the amount of a FG infestation you may have and they also should be placed relatively close to the plant’s surface area. If you have a yellow sticky cards filled with them and you see FGs flying all around your kitchen, you definitely have a major problem. Usually the best place to start is thinking about the potting soil mix you used in the first place, and also your habits on how often and much you water your plants in pots inside the home.

“However, the primary reason why fungus
gnats are abundant in homes is related to
changes in moisture levels associated with the growing media of houseplants. Fungus
gnat adults are highly attracted to moist growing media. Furthermore, as the growing medium ages or degrades it tends to retain more moisture, which will also attract fungus gnat adults. In addition, decreased day length and cooler temperatures slow plant growth and water usage. If watering practices are not altered….

— by W.S. Cranshaw and R.A. Cloyd*

The link for the quote above and the full article is from Colorado State University Extension.

But one reason I pulled this quote from the article above (in the black box) is because I feel I see more of the FG problem in the winter as well. As they are pointing out, three things occur: the FGs like moisture and they note growing medium (potting mixes) sometimes hold onto too much moisture (meaning if in a pot for years and it doesn’t drain well for whatever reason), and lastly, plants tend to slow down growth in the winter months inside the home, so less moisture is being used up by the plants now in the winter months (so it stays too damp and maybe even too cold).

Cathy T (me) in my greenhouse

Another article noted that people notice FGs more so in the winter because they are inside with their plants, versus the plants perhaps being located outside during the summer, or you are outside more in the summers than winter. Houseplants in particular grow slowly and roots may not take up as much moisture such as a big tropical plant would in the summer outdoors. You get the idea. But they are pointing out, you may just notice them more in the winter months than summer.

Whatever the reason, these FGs are a real PIA to people. And they ain’t pretty either when you get into sowing seeds in a few months for your warm season vegetables, such as tomatoes, in your seedling trays. So, it is critical you pick the correct seedling mix in the first place. And have the right temperature, environment, clean pots, and good potting or seedling mix, in this case when you start your seeds. Perhaps correct is not the right wording, you want quality seedling mix.

Usually my number one rule, when you go to buy potting mix or seedling mix, is to be sure you are purchasing fresh mix that is in good standing condition in the bag. If the bag is a mess, at whatever location you are getting them from, I’d stay away. I’ve talked about this in the following post:

https://containercrazyct.com/2019/04/15/cathy-ts-5-must-dos-for-successful-container-gardening-and-patio-pots/

When I see people upset that they can’t get rid of the FGs in their planted house plants in pots (from these posts I’ve been reading), and they feel they’ve done everything right, such as let the soil dry out on the top (since the FGs prefer moisture), they bought reputable potting mix from a reputable place, they keep their pots and areas clean, their pots have drain holes, they been careful with watering, and they are truly trying to be the best plant parent they can be, I feel their pain. Why, oh why, can’t we count on potting mixes in the retail market place to be problem-free?!

I remember once telling a guy at a garden show years ago that when I get my greenhouse I’m going to keep it super clean, and he laughed and said, bio-diversity is just as important. True I’ve learned, and no matter how clean, you just can’t sometimes prevent nature from stepping in. That is true.

And I agree with the above article too, if the soil is too damp, AND cold, and in winter, I think there is more of an issue with FGs (fungus gnats) appearing. The best thing you can do is ACT on it immediately when you see the little buggers flying around your potted plant.

However, I do everything I can to start with good, quality potting mixes. And I see that question asked often on Facebook gardening like group pages, well, what is the BEST mix?

Oh boy, that one gets all kinds of responses. I know which I like and which I don’t. I don’t get any paid advertising on my (this) blog at all, so if I listed them, it would not be for the purposes of gaining that but I also sometimes don’t want to list them because they can seem like the best, and whack, you get FGs anyhow!

One year, I offered a Seed Starting Workshop and we decided to test various seedling mixes. Each attendee had 32 cell trays and we split up the rows by using a different seedling mix per row. We used some of my professional potting mix and other potting mixes on the market, and two different types of “seedling mixes”. One type of seedling mix, for some reason, completely failed. The seedlings in those rows were so tiny and did not grow much. All the other rows were just fine. All was sown at the same time and in the same growing conditions, and I was watering the seedlings after the class for a few weeks for the attendees. I was so excited that I even thought of testing out the various potting and seedling mixes in this experiment without knowing the results would show us a really good example of how you might think a mix is great (and I did think the brand and place I got from was reputable) but it failed. Why? Hmmm. One thing was that mix did have more heavy components (bark) even though it was listed as “seedling mix.” As per the note in the first listed article above where they said mixes with more compost are more attractive to FGs, so the mix was heavier and probably a bit more compost like. Where all the other mixes were primarily sphagnum peat moss and perlite.

Seedlings in Cathy T’s Greenhouse

I never went back to the retail store to say, hey, we used this mix – and it really didn’t work well compared to the others. But what would the store owner say? He’s probably think I was a nut job. Not knowing, I’m Cathy T. LOL.

For years, I’ve been saying, I’m going to write a full blog post about potting mixes and which are the best (in my opinion based on use). And make it very technical, but I still really haven’t done that. I always just repeat what I’ve always said, use a fresh bag of quality potting mix (or seedling mix if sowing seeds) and follow these watering instructions (provided with my kits or in my workshops, etc.) and all should be fine.

I think probably the most important thing is the potting or seedling mix needs to be fresh, sterile, and well-draining. Mixes with additional components are sometimes too heavy for container gardening, seed starting trays, and patio pots. It also greatly depends on what you are growing (seeds versus a perennial plant). Heavier potting mixes are needed for certain types of plants. But I’m generally referring to seedlings right now and smaller plants, or those in smaller pots, such as houseplants being a good example.

As you can see, it is a hard topic to narrow down.

Because I am vigilant at cleaning my greenhouse and keeping watch of my plants, and my pots, and picking up debris, using good potting or seedling mix to start with, I rarely have a potting mix issues or major fungus gnats. However, recently I had one big succulent plant in a single 6-7″ pot, and I saw them, saw those FGs flying around that particular plant, and I immediately put a yellow sticky pest trap card near the surface of the succulent plant on a little stake inserted into the pot, and yup, I knew right away that plant had an issue when I checked that card one or two days later. There were quite a few FG attached to it in places. I tried treating it, the soil, with various methods. Then I checked again, the problem was not going away. What did I do? I repotted the whole plant into new fresh potting mix and even a new fresh pot, and I’ll keep watching. I did it because I love that big succulent, and it was worth it to redo the potting of it, at least it was worth it to me. Plus I didn’t want it to spread to other plants.

Because this topic is big and is difficult to write about, I’m going to stop writing right here and continue more on this later. It is time for my second cup of coffee!

BTW, my seedling kits come with my professional well-draining fresh potting mix (the one I trust) and planting instructions, growing charts, when to sow timing, seedling trays and seeds! If you are local to my areas, check out my offerings on www.WORKSHOPSCT.com. I am offering free delivery to areas near me!

Thank you,

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