Nature All Around

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One of the wonders and benefits of growing lots of plants and being surrounded by woodlands in my yard is the invitation of wildlife. This year, I’ve seen lots of snakes, so, if this is not your thing, brace yourself, because one made it’s way into my greenhouse!

Garter snake – harmless, I believe!

I’m not too afraid of snakes but I definitely don’t want to find one in a pot I’m carrying in my hands! Fortunately, this guy made it out safely when I left the greenhouse’s screen door open just a crack. I think they found their way in via a drain (they, yes, there was a ring neck snake in my greenhouse this winter as well).

I felt badly that it would not survive in there because I do not have mice or slugs in my greenhouse, nor a source of water, so I’m glad this guy found his way out. In fact, he was drinking water from the rims of pots – so I knew he was thirsty. It took a while. I had to leave him alone to travel across the floor to the screen. He had his face right against the screen and I was like, “Dude, slide to the right to the opening!” Finally, he did.

Luna Moth 2022
Luna Moth Side View

Then, just yesterday, I spotted a beautiful Luna Moth on a shrub on my driveway at 7:30 am. What a sight. I’ve seen them before, but this one was absolutely perfect, so I rushed out to take a photo or two. What a sight – they are just beautiful.

We have two huge groundhogs and lots of rabbits in the yard now. This is typical. And of course the squirrels and I’ve seen a chipmunk spying at my pots already. The list goes on and on. It is a wild life jungle. We even have five huge blue heron nests in the woodlands. I can hear them make their bird calls when they arrive. I am in tune with the sounds of these animals in my surroundings. And there have been quite a few hummingbirds this season. They zoom up to my flowers, pop around, investigate, and I have my hummingbird feeders in various places.

It is just wonderful to watch the wildlife, but it is also tricky because I have to watch them from getting my tomatoes later this year on the deck (that is for the chipmunks and squirrels). I want to build a huge garden enclosed some day in my yard, but that is a huge project for a later date/year.

Fox Cherry Tomato 2022

I plant all my tomato starts in large pots and fabric grow bags. Usually a minimum of 22″ in diameter and about as deep for pots, and the grow bags range from the 15-20 gallon sizes. I know you can grow them in 5 gallon buckets, but that is not my thing. I use quality potting mixes, usually add compost, and this year, I’m adding Espoma Tomato food with calcium because I had the Blossom End Rot issue last year. Long story there, but I want to test if this plant food will help prevent it. Whiskey barrel (1/2 size barrels) are a great visual to determine the size of pot you should use, unless it is a compact variety for patio pots that stays small, but the tomatoes on my deck are mostly indeterminate and will get large. Never use soil from the ground – it is too compact, harbors diseases and insects, etc.

This year, I have planted one of each: Fox Cherry Tomato, Cherokee Purple, Goldie Heirloom, and I need to plant a Ground Cherry, which that one is new to me. Just I have to rush to do these things for me between plant work for others. That is fine, the weather has been stupendous! Let’s hope it stays that way. Anyhow, I take lots and lots of photos if you are interested in seeing the progress, and more wild life photos – go to my page on Instagram under Container Crazy CT. I posted a few of the Luna Moth yesterday.

Well, that is all for today. Just wanted to share a quick photo or two.

Have a great week!

Cathy Testa
Zone 6b
Connecticut

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

Places I’ve Put My Tomato Plants in Containers at My Home

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When my husband and I searched for our house, many moons ago, I was absolutely sure I wanted a house with some property. I grew up on a farm in East Windsor, CT and I knew I liked having space around my home, but never in a million years, would I have imagined how much I would enjoy the spaces and land as much as we have over the past 30 or so years.

When I get my tomato plants ready to put in pots, grow bags, or containers, I have some choices on where to place the containers around my home.

The Driveway

Driveway Area

The driveway area located between our garage and house is fairly large. Never would have I thought when we had a wrought iron fence built that it would be a great place to line up tomatoes in pots later in life. The warmth of the paved area is great for keeping the soil warm for the plants, the wrought iron fence serves a bit as a protection from wild animals on the back side, and the garden hose from the house’s outdoor faucet is close enough to reach the potted tomato plants for daily watering in the summer months.

Upon Planting

I think the first year that I lined up the pots with tomato plants on this driveway space area, I didn’t need any fencing around it, but the wild animals learned. They (squirrels or chipmunks) started to discover this was “the sweet spot” and thus, the following years, I had to put chicken wire around the pots to protect the fruit from the little critters. The chipmunks were particularly a nuisance one year, because they would creep up and sneak in by going on the backside. The chicken wire I used was attached to a large dog pen portable cage I picked up somewhere. It worked, somewhat but it was a pain to open and close it to get to the fruit at times.

Driveway, Plants Surrounded by Chicken Wire attached to a Dog Pen Fence

Turns out back then, the driveway area between the house and garage served as a great place to also harden off my tomato plants before planting them in bigger pots. The paved area is level and a great surface to place portable tables there, so again, I could keep the critters away by elevating my starter plants, and for ease of transporting them daily, as I would move them back and forth sometimes from the inside to the outside each day to acclimate them before their permanent home in a large pot.

Hardening Off Tomato Plants on a Table along with some other plants

The Deck and Deck Tables

I knew when we built a wooden deck along the back side of our ranch style home that it would be immediately filled with flowers in patio pots, and it was, but later in life, I started potting up tomato plants and herbs as well. The deck is nice because fresh tomatoes are within reach of our kitchen area. Plus if any wild animals wish to investigate, which they do, such as squirrels, I’m close enough at times to yell at them to get lost. Last year, I decided to put some of the tomato plants in big tubs on an old deck table. I wanted to try to see if it would help from the investigating squirrels. It kind of did. We didn’t have the best weather last year for tomatoes (too much rain) but they were so beautiful and large before we started getting harsh rain storms with damaging winds, etc. Anyhow, using the deck table on the deck was a nice place to put some of the pots. Some of the pots are also on the deck floor.

Because the indeterminate tomato plants will grow taller and taller, I came up with a strategy to take garden twine and s-shaped hooks and train them up to the house gutters. It looks rather messy but heck, it works. I guess I don’t mind the jungle feel of tomatoes on my deck. We can just walk by and grab ripened ones anytime we wish. And yes, I did sit in that cozy deck chair and admire my plants from time to time. That makes them grow better. Didn’t you know that? LOL.

Tomato Plants on the Deck

North Side Area by Garage

To the north side of our garage, where our leaching field is located under the ground, is a nice flat open space. Years ago, I considered putting a hoop style greenhouse there because it gets full sun all day but that area gets very hot. There are no shade trees and the lawn bakes there. You can see the grass is usually dry as a bone on this area in the photos below. I didn’t end up putting a hoop style greenhouse there, and I’m thankful because it would get too hot in summer. I could imagine it having to have fans on all the time and things would bake. Plus, often it is not a good idea to build over leaching fields.

Anyhow, one year, I put a rather large black pot there with an Oxheart tomato. The plant grew so large, I wrapped hard wire fencing around it with bamboo poles. The bamboo poles were inserted into the inside of the rim of this large pot that is about 4 feet tall. It worked great – the critters could not climb up the large black pot (because it is large and not easily grabbed onto) to get to the amazing huge Oxheart tomatoes.

Inserting the Bamboo Poles
Before I decided to line the bamboo poles around it

I used to drag a very long garden hose up to that area and actually set the hose in the big black pot and let it run for a bit to water it. I developed tennis elbow from doing this here and everywhere for other containers on my property (always too many! LOL), so this area was not the best for watering routines. However, it was probably one of the best spots for keeping animals away. I think the pot’s height and the fact nothing was around it, maybe the animals felt threatened in that area (unprotected) but it definitely kept them out. However, to get to the gorgeous huge 3 lb sized Oxheart tomatoes once they were ripe, I had to get on a step stool to reach down into the plant and carefully grab these huge tomatoes. It was tricky, but worth it.

Zip Ties used to Secure the Hard Wire Fence Material to the Bamboo Poles
Look at the lawn area – burnt and dry

No matter where I put the containers with tomatoes around my home, I still envision an enclosed garden area in my backyard surrounded by a beautiful white fence with a gate and arbor entrance. Alas, my husband says, that will have to wait until he retires because he never has time to build it. We get lots of wild animals in our backyard, so any fruiting plants must be protected. It would have to be carefully protected with fencing all around and I envision it filled with those square raised beds. Ah, that would be tomato heaven.

Last Year, 2021, On the deck by my bedroom slider

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT
Zone 6b
Thanks for visiting!

Patio Umbrellas on the deck offers shade as needed
Welcome to the Jungle!
Plants around the Patio Table – Adds Ambiance!

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

A Bowl of Tomatoes

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One year, many years ago, I went on vacation with my husband and some friends to Cancun, Mexico. We adventured from our hotel via taxis one afternoon and stopped at a mini local market. I was so into the market, looking at all the handmade items, jewelry, knickknacks, and I then saw beautiful hand-made pottery type bowls in super colorful patterns on the inside of the bowl with a wonderful terra color to the outside of the bowls. I bought one immediately, and the man selling them did the sign of the cross with his hands after I paid him cash, and he said a prayer right in front of me. He was so thankful for my purchase. I remember thinking, wow, I wish I could buy at least 5 more of these gorgeous bowls, but they wouldn’t fit in my suitcase!

Here is the bowl filled with various tomatoes and peppers from my container gardens this year. Aren’t the colors of the bowl and fruit just amazing? It is a good way for me to display the fruit as a reference for next year when I grow the starter plants from seed again. That is my main goal usually is to show what the fruit looks like, and comment on how they tasted.

This year, again, I’ve said has been a very humid and very wet summer in Connecticut. My plants didn’t do as well as last year, but alas, I got enough fruit to give my opinion on them. If only they grew better, I would have a lot more to eat, and so would Steve, my husband.

What is this Pepper?

Okay, who out there can help me? I obtained seed packets which are a mix of chili peppers. When I sowed them, I thought, “Wait, how will I know which is which when I go to sell the starter plants?!” Because it is a mix, I won’t know until I try these out and see them grow and produce peppers.

I ended up with 3-4 patio pots of the pepper plants on my deck and had to wait and see. One plant produces the pepper shown above, it turns black from a green color. One day, I tossed one on my grill whole, roasted it, and we tasted it. It was very yummy! Then I did that again a month later with some more of the black ones, and they were a lot hotter than the prior picked black peppers. The heat turned up the longer they stayed on the plant.

The Green Ancho Poblanos Peppers

This one above, is on a different plant (not the same as the ones that turn black). Look at the top – how it kind of indents. I has a different shape than the ones that have been turning black on the other pepper plant on my deck. I was able to find this green one described as:

Ancho Poblano represent the golden mean of the pepper universe. They’ve got some spice, but you can easily chomp right into them. They’ve got some genuine pepper flavor, but it’s muted a bit by the heat. They’re great fresh, cooked, pickled, dried, or blistered in fire when fully ripe. They grow abundantly on bushes that reach nearly three feet tall. Plant early, though, if your goal is to maximize the number of ripe pods you get; they do require a fairly long growing season.

I agree, they have some heat. At first I questioned if they were Habaneros cause the seed packet contained some of those as well, but I thought, that can’t be possible. The Habaneros I purchase in grocery stores are not nearly as large, but these green ones are hot. My husband is the taste tester, and it is always comical to see him take a big bite, chew, and then the expression on his face! At first, he was like, “Oh, they are mild,” then a few chews after, he says…, “OH NO, they are HOT!!”, and he then spit some out. LOL.

Habaneros (green stage – to turn yellow)

This week, I finally spotted a pepper that is the size of the Habaneros on another plant on my deck. I thought, “Ah-ha! Here it is!” Steve hasn’t taste tested it yet. It is supposed to turn yellow so I will let you know. So basically, all the seeds in this packet are a mix. It also includes a red pepper (small oval long shape) that starts green, and I think this is a Serrano pepper.

Serranos Hot Peppers

Well, I am thinking these are Serranos, but I’m not 100% positive. Steve still has yet to taste these. I think I will make some salsa this weekend with tomatoes and some of these peppers to give them a try. These red peppers are abundant on a small plant in a pot on my deck. The plant looks like a Christmas tree with all the green and red peppers right now.

Thus, again, the confusion lies in the fact the seed packet has a mix of Pica Chile various species of hot pepper plants. It has been fun to witness what is produced, but the only downfall is I don’t know what I will get but I will definitely start these mixes again from seed next year for people who enjoy the adventure of seeing what types of hot peppers they will be able to use in their cooking from their plants!

The Bowl from Cancun with a Mix of Tomatoes and Peppers

Starting from my logo on the left, lets go clock wise! At the clock noon position, is a Goldie (obvious from the golden yellow color), Ancho Poblanos (green pepper, mild to hot) 1 pm, Habaneros (green small sitting on-top of some red Matchbox peppers and Tiny Tim tomatoes), a Mandurang Moon tomato at 6 pm, another green Ancho Poblanos, and then the black peppers (name unknown) at the 9-10 pm position of a clock. There are others in there, such as Paul Robeson tomatoe and a StoneRidge, and a Cherokee Purple.

Granted, some of the fruit doesn’t look perfect, some cracking from too much moisture this season (lots and lots of rain storms), and all that – but overall, they still taste amazing.

Hot Matchbox Peppers

This one is definitely a Matchbox hot pepper (pointy tip) in a different pot and not from the “mix of variety seed packet.” It is from a separate packet and I’ve grown them before, they are super compact, perfect in small pots, and product lots of hot red peppers, starting from green color.

Cherokee Purple

I’m pretty sure this is the Cherokee Purple. It looks very similar to the Paul Robeson tomatoes. Paul Robeson are orangey purple green beefsteaks, and I am taste testing both. Both the Cherokee and PR’s are just amazing. My only disappointment is I wish I had more of the plants on my deck or in a garden. I did restrain myself this season, I can only keep up with so much watering, I thought. Then it poured like heck this summer. Things got over watered by nature.

Paul Robeson Tomato

The PR’s are noted to resist cracking and have exceptional flavor. They just look very similar to the Cherokee and sometimes I forget which I took a photo of later when I start to blog and post about them.

Goldie

Speaking of tomatoes which resist cracking, I would say by observation this season, Goldies fit that description as well. They are blemish free and absolutely perfect looking yellow golden tomatoes. I wrote about them in my prior post this month. It is an heirloom and sweet golden flesh. They do melt in your mouth. Oh I hope next year will be better growing season cause I want these again for sure!!!

The Mandurang Moon tomatoes are about the size of cherry tomatoes and a pale yellow. I thought when I cooked with them in a sauce, it intensified the flavor of this tomato. They are also perfect, no blemishes, and firm. The plant stays shorter with stalky center stems and leaves that look like potato plant leaves. I blogged about these earlier as well on this site.

The bowl with a mix

Others in this bowl are some Tiny Tim tomatoes (super compact plant) and some StoneRidge. More on those later.

It is interesting to note that even though I felt like my plants suffered, I still was able to enjoy the fruit – enough for two. We add one to sandwiches, roast a couple to put next to steaks from the grill or corn, and add some to salsa’s, whatever. It was just enough to test the varieties and take notes here so I will remember come spring 2022 when I do this all over again!

Thank you and enjoy your weekend. It is supposed to cool down tomorrow after a very humid day today!

Cathy Testa
Written Aug 27 2021
Container Crazy CT
Located in Broad Brook/East Windsor, CT

860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

I sell starter plants in the spring time, I install container gardens and patio pots for clients, I dabble in holiday items such as succulent topped pumpkins in the fall, and fresh greenery wreaths and kissing balls in the holiday winter season. I ponder what is next, what should I continue but I do know, I really LOVE growing the tomato plants from seed, so that is a keeper on my to-do lists! Thank you for visiting, Sorry about the typo’s or grammar errors, I have to rush out to water before the humidity kicks in! Cathy T.

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