Tomatoes Outdoors; The Hardening Off Process

4 Comments

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

Leave a comment

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

Big Basil Leaves for your Pesto and Tomato Slices

Leave a comment

Genovese basil was the number one type of basil requested of the several types of basil I offered last year. This herb plant is a typical deep green color and it grows medium-to-large sized leaves. You may directly sow basil seeds into your gardens or you may start them in seedling flats, small pots, or whatever type of container you prefer, and then move them outdoors when it is warm enough, usually late May or early June. The time to start the Genovese basil seeds indoors in my area of Connecticut is 2-4 weeks before our last frost date, then you may transplant them after the frost period and this is usually done when outdoor temperatures are about the same as when you would plant your warm season tomato starter plants.

Basils do not tolerate frost or cold temps

Basil plants like to grow in hot weather and will not tolerate light frosts. So do not tempt growing them too early and putting them outdoors until it is hot outdoors. All you really need is a sunny area outdoors, or a sunny window indoors that stays warm, and it will be okay. It prefers areas that are full sun or full sun with some light shade at different parts of the day. I usually have two or three pots outdoors with my seed grown basil plants on my deck in a south-east location. I could not endure not having some of the freshly picked Genovese basil leaves because the leaves are full of flavor. And you may harvest the leaves all season long by cutting stems just above new leaf growth or cutting leaves individually off the plant. You may also sow basil seeds repeatedly in the summer in intervals all the way till before our temperatures start to cool down. Once it is cool outdoors, the plants do not perform well.

It is the perfect pesto basil

However, the great news is Genovese basil is the perfect type to make pesto. The pesto may be frozen to be used all winter long. The rewards are great. And as mentioned, laying a few of the big leaves on slices of fresh tomatoes is heaven in the summer months. Especially if you have some fresh mozzarella to lay on top for making a fresh, juicy, delicious, and favorable basil topped sandwich. I also enjoy chopping up the leaves to toss fresh with cut up tomatoes and garlic, olive oil and pasta. This is why I got more basil seed packets this year to sow my own and sow some as transplants for my friends, clients, and whomever is interested.

Scatter the seeds

When you buy a packet of basil seeds, there are plenty of tiny seeds in the packet. Sometimes up to 250 seeds. Usually I scatter some of the seeds from the packet onto seedling or potting mix in medium to smaller sized pots or into my cell seedling tray flats of 2-3″ pots. I am always sure to not get anxious to start basil seeds too early because, again, they like the heat. If you start too early and it is not warm enough, they will just fail. Basil is very sensitive to cold. If you have a sunny warm spot in the home, they may do fine but just remember, they don’t like the cold, so don’t get too anxious to start them. Usually a month before our enjoyable outdoor temperatures is a good time to start them. And if grown indoors, they will need light. If none is available in your home, a grow light is recommended.

Above are Genovese basils just starting to grow from seed. You can see the cotyledons in this photo below the true leaves.

I always grow basil in pots and not in the ground. As you may or may not know, I do all my gardening in containers, and thus that is why this site is called Container Crazy CT. And basil is a perfect candidate for container gardening. The plants will grow well all season long and I rarely have any issues from bugs or diseases when I grow basil in patio pots outdoors in the summer. In fact, I grew some basil from seed to put in container gardens on a high-rise balcony last season for a client. I was extremely pleased with the outcome. The plants loved the heat, sun, and thrived at a roof top level garden. I was super proud of how well the Genovese basil grew in this scenario.

Basil planter on a roof top

A High Rise Herb Kitchen Garden by Container Crazy CT – See the two Genovese basil plants in each corner.

In fact, by the end of the summer season, just before I was ready to install their fall gardens, the basil plants were absolutely gorgeous, full, tall, and still very much usable. I harvested all the stems of the basil plants and put them in vases for my clients to continue to use as long as possible. Here is a photo of how they looked later in the season below. My eyes bugged out of my head when I saw how wonderfully they had grown. Due to the heat, sun, and good breezes as well as consistent watering by my clients, these plants were just stunning and large – and healthy. As you can imagine, it is very warm on a roof top thus, a testament to how much the basil plants thrived in a hot location.

A mixed herb garden on a roof top balcony – with Genovese basils in the corners

But you don’t need a high rise roof top style area to enjoy growing basils in containers or patio pots! You only need warmth, sun, and nice starter plants from seed if desired. Usually I plant my Genovese basil at my home in various pots of various sizes. Some are as big as 22-25″ diameter round pots, or I’ve grown them in long styled window boxes, and square terracotta containers of about 8-10″ square. They do well in any pot with sufficient drainage holes, good quality potting mix that is well draining, and if you water appropriately. In the garden, slugs may find your basil plants, but that doesn’t happen in my patio pots and containers because they are elevated from the ground usually. I find basil is an easy care container plant.

From small 2-3″ pots to larger outdoor pots
Probably a 15″ diameter plastic pot size and there is one Thai basil mixed in with the Genovese in this photo above.

Keep the soil fairly moist

You must keep the soil fairly moist when you grow basil in containers, and bear in mind that soil will dry out faster usually in container gardens versus in the ground. And you should use potting mix (not dirt from the ground) in containers and patio pots. But nothing beats having the plants handy when you want to make up a quick dinner. As I mentioned, it is so super easy to toss cut up Genovese basil leaves with pasta. In the photo above is the point when the basil was probably getting ready to flower before the end of summer. You should harvest the leaves before this stage, or be sure to continuously cut stems and leaves in summer, otherwise the plant will produce flowers and go to seed.

Wine Opener shows the size of the Genovese basil leaves

One time I was carrying a tray of basil plants I grew from seed with a tray of succulent plants, Aeoniums, and I noticed how the green colors looked pretty again the dark colored succulent rosettes, so I snapped a spontaneous picture. Of course, these two plants don’t “go together” but I thought it was rather neat for the eyes.

Basil next to Aeonium black rose succulents
Genovese Basil Plants in a Container Up-close

In summary, if you want to grow your own Genovese basil plants, I have seed packets available and provide step by step instructions, sowing calendars, and tips along the way. I can’t imagine not having these amazing herb plants every summer to harvest from, as I love them so much. I will be growing them this season again. It is a must have in any kitchen garden. I would say it is an essential herb if you want to enjoy a true summer of fresh! Remember the basics: warmth, sunny spot, and harvest regularly. Let me know if you are interested in my seeds or seed sowing kits.

Thank you for visiting and be sure to check me out on www.WORKSHOPSCT.com too!

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
http://www.WorkshopsCT.com
www.ContainerGardensCT.com
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com
Posted published: Feb 16, 2021

Tomato Seedling Stages

Leave a comment

One of the rewards of taking so many photos of my plants is being able to look back on them when I am getting ready to write another blog post. I was thinking about showing some photos of what my tomato seedlings looked like in various stages and in different seedling trays or pots.

Bumble Bee Cherry Mix Tomato on the left

These two tomato plants certainly look healthy. They are in 5″ square plastic black pots. I actually got the pots many years ago and they held perennials at the time, but I kept them because I liked the size and shape. I clean them with mild soapy water every year and store them to reuse. It is important to wash any re-used pots as they may create disease problems the following year. Often recommended is sterilizing them by soaking the pots and/or trays in a 10 percent solution of household bleach and water. Soak them for a few hours, rinse well, and let air dry. I do this the prior year because washing pots is easier when warm outdoors than in winter when we start seeds in March. The 5″ square pots are the perfect size for growing my baby seedlings “after I prick the plants out of their prior seedling trays” when I transplant them from the seedling flat trays into these square pots. Eventually, when they reach a decent size as shown above in the 5″ square pots, I will move them up into one-gallon pots after they’ve been growing in these 5″ square pots for a while if necessary.

Bumble Bee Cherry

By the way, the Bumble Bee Mix Cherry tomato is a favorite. It has multi-colored fruit (striped) and are sweet flavored. I start them early indoors in seedling trays and keep them growing till they are ready to harden off. I have seed packets available of this type again this year. The two plants shown above are the bumble bee type.

Outdoors late May hardening off the plants

In this photo, I’m holding one of those 5″ square pots and was placing them outdoors for a few hours daily around mid-May (after any chances of frost) on non-windy days, under some shade to protect the new tender leaves. When moving a bunch of tomato seedlings or tomato starts (some people call them that) from the greenhouse to the outdoors daily is when I get plenty of exercise going back and forth. It should be into an area protected outdoors, for a few hours every day, until they may be permanently planted in container gardens, patio pots, fabric grow bags, or gardens of the ground later in May.

3-3.5″ Cell Trays

The above photo show them before they get moved into the 5″ square pots. I like using the type of trays shown above as my seedling trays. Each cell is about 3-3.5″ diameter and deep. I tend to do one seed per cell in these because I like giving each plant it’s own undisturbed growing space but you may sow more seeds per each cell (to save on soil), and then prick them out carefully to another pot when they get larger to un-crowd them. Many sources will say to prick out seedlings (whether it is one or more seeds grown per cell) at the sign of the first set of true leaves. I don’t always move them out (prick them out) that soon. I sometimes wait until the plant seems sturdier and has maybe 2-3 sets of the true leaves. The true leaves are the ones shaped like a tomato leaf, where if you look closely you can see the seed leaf below those (shaped more oval) in the above photo. The seed leaf, called a Cotyledon, is the food storage structure of a seed and it is the first leaf to appear above the soil when the seed germinates. It will feed the plant initially, then the true leaves form. Once your seeds have germinated and are starting to grow, you must give them plenty of light and you may also remove them from a plant heating mat if you used one below the trays.

Fox Cherry tomato

By the way, it is Fox Cherry Tomato growing in the photo above. Another favorite variety I have grown the past couple years. It produces cherry tomatoes that are rather large, all orange and red color, and great on skewers on the grill. I didn’t get new seed of this type this year but still have some packets from last season, so I’ll probably grow a couple rows of these to offer.

Cathy Testa holding a 3.5″ seedling pot

You can see here I was holding a cell that had two plants in it from seed. You may prick out one by very carefully removing it from the soil with the soil around the roots intact as much as possible. I sometimes use a tiny bamboo skewer as a tool. I will insert the bamboo stick (like a skewer or tooth pick size) under the root area (placing it in the soil and under, going to the bottom of the soil to release it), and push it up, rather than “tugging” on it from the stem, which could damage the delicate tiny seedling. You have to handle them gently at this stage when you prick them out of any growing trays to move them into a bigger pot, otherwise, you will damage them. When I move the baby seedlings into larger pots (1-gallon at times if they get really large), I will use a coarser potting mix and add some slow-release fertilizer prills, but usually only for those tomato plants which are large enough for a one-gallon pot and that is usually when we are closer to hardening off the plant outdoors after frost.

Good photo of the trays

These 3.5″ cell trays shown above are a type I got a couple years ago and I really like them because the bottom holding tray is thick and sturdy. Each tray holds 32 plants (cells). This photo was actually from a seed starting session I held a couple seasons ago. Each person sowed a full tray and we used various types of seedling mixes. I wrote about our experiences with that in a prior blog post. When we fill them with seedling mix, it is to about 1/4″ from the top and sometimes I will gently tap the little pot on the table just to level the soil but you should not press down the potting mix as this would reduce the fluffy-ness and air to it and also would compact it. We use a small bamboo skewer to make a tiny pin-hole where the seed is placed. Some people will fill these cells to capacity with many seeds, but as indicated above, I usually do the one seed per cell.

Upstate Oxheart Tomato seeds

In my session that year, I handed out the seeds in these tiny paper like cups. You can see here the seeds of Oxheart tomatoes (which I wrote about in my prior post). The Upstate Oxheart tomatoes grow huge (giant) tomatoes! Sometimes we used tweezers to pick up one single seed to insert into the soil where we made a tiny divot hole in the seedling mix using the skewer. It is amazing that tiny seeds, made up of a seed coat (technically called a Testa), Endosperm, which is food storage tissue in the seed. Then there is a layer called the Aleurone layer, and a radicle which is an embryonic root. The root gets pushed into the soil first when the seed germinates and the top part of the plant, the Epicotyl, is the portion of the embryonic stem attached to the cotyledon(s) I mentioned above. The cotyledon (a seed leaf) is the food storage structure in the seeds and the very first leaves to appear after it germinates from the soil. All from a tiny single seed, which eventually grows into an amazing plant.

Oxheart in a Styrofoam Cup

One year, I came across these tall Styrofoam cups and thought I will use them to move them up from the 3.5″ cell trays but later, I decided I didn’t really care for these cups. First, they are not biodegradable, although cheap to find. And secondly, they toppled over easily, but they were doable. I used a nail to poke a bunch of drain holes in the bottom before pricking out a baby seedling to move into these Styrofoam white cups. Also, the shape being round doesn’t save shelf space as do the square 5″ pots shown behind them. The square pots are a great way to capitalize on space on the shelves in my greenhouse.

1 gallon Pots

Sometimes the plants grow rather tall and large before it is warm enough outdoors to plant them, and I will use either brand new one-gallon sized plastic pots typical in the nursery industry, or I’ll reuse a pot from a plant, always being sure they are thoroughly cleaned. And they must have drain holes. Here in these Monrovia pots are my nice looking tomato plants. I believe these were the Oxheart tomatoes which I mentioned in my prior pot have droopy leaves, which is normal for this variety of plant and its habit.

Empty Seedling Tray with the 3.5″ square cells, 32 cells per tray

As you can see, there are a few phases of seedlings. First is the smaller 3.5″ cells, then up to a 5″ square or maybe the Styrofoam cup idea, and then if the plant gets rather large, it is repotted again into a 1-gallon pot. This has been my typical process. So, you should bear in mind, the trays, seedling mix, and time it takes to do all and to have a space with sufficient sunlight or do all with grow lights indoors in your home. Seedlings are very much like tending to little babies requiring attention and care along the way. You can’t leave them totally unattended because you must monitor their growth and progress. You need to ensure they have appropriate moisture and air along the way. Sometimes you can place a very small fan to create a gentle breeze around the seedlings when they are larger (5″ pot size stage of pot or above, 1 gallon pot size) as this helps them to grow stronger and the air circulation reduces any chances of rot problems.

On Seedling Heat Mats

I would recommend the seedling heat mats. They gently warm up the potting media or seedling mix you used while you await for the seeds to emerge. The heat mats last a few years and are easy to store and clean up each season. I leave them on the whole time until the seeds emerge and look sturdy, then the trays get moved to other shelves in my greenhouse to continue growing. They are not kept on the seedling heat mats after they are growing well.

Speedling Trays – The stage where the Cotyledon has emerged first

Someone on a farm recommended this white seedling tray to me about 4 years ago. I do like them very much, the shape of the cells are v-shaped and it grows a strong root system, but I can no longer find the place where I had ordered them online, but I have seen them listed as hydroponic trays (they float). However, it seems the price of these are much higher now. It is a great long lasting tray, light weight, and easy to clean. The seeds grow well in these, but I’m not sure if I would pay the price for them now. In this photo above, you can clearly see the “cotyledons”, the seed leaf which is first to appear.

5″ squares with peppers and tomato

Here’s another clear photo of some plants in the 5″ squares growing along well. I put them on a white chair that day. I’m always taking photos – it is an addiction, a true problem, LOL. There is a tomato on the bottom left and some hot pepper plants.

New Yorker tomatoe seedling on left

This is a good photo above because it gives you an idea of the size of the 3.5″ cell pots (left) which I use when I sow the seeds initially, and then the 5″ square (right pot) which I use to move the seedling up into when the baby seedlings are a good size. This has a New Yorker tomato plant in it. I’m always trying out new varieties of tomatoes. It is part of the fun of tasting flavors later!

What the seedling looks like when it first appears!

Nothing beats that wonderful feeling when you see the seed has sprouted up from the soil! Here is the tiny seed leaves which emerges first. As soon as I see these, all the seedlings are carefully monitored to make sure the soil stays slightly moist. If you have a humidity cover over your seeds or over your seed trays, it should be removed at this stage. If it condensates too much, it will promote rotting of the very tiny delicate stems. Don’t over water either, if soaking wet all the time, this may lead to rot.

Other things you need to consider

You may use practically anything for containers to sow and grow your seeds. Anything with drain holes that will hold the seedling mix will due, however, be sure all is clean if reusing anything. The seed sowing trays (or flats) shown above are my favorite, specifically the black plastic tray with 3.5″ cells/pots, because they are sturdy, pathogen free, easy to place on shelves, and these plastic cell pots keep the soil evenly moist. It is important to pick the right sized flats because you don’t want to put a seed in too deep of a pot (cell) or in one too larger either. Each type of seed has a recommended cell size to be enhance germination. Anything from 2″-3″-4″ is usually a good average size to use for tomato and pepper seeds.

While waiting for the seeds to germinate, you need to always consider having the correct temperature (70-75 degrees F), and to keep the potting mixed used warm, a heat mat for plants/sowing gently does so – and I think the mats are worth the investment. Then you should watch the seedling mix to make sure it maintains moisture and humidity. You need to check on your trays daily. A clear cover over the seedling trays or flats helps with the humidity. All must be balanced and not stay or get soaking wet or totally bone dry. You can’t just forget about them. For example, if you decide to leave for a few days, they will dry out so you need to ask a friend or family member to monitor them. Once they germinate, light is a critical factor. Using fluorescent lights or growing them in a greenhouse is best. A greenhouse is not a typical thing for gardeners to have so investing in a grow light is a good idea if you want to improve your strength of the seedlings. However, I’ve seen it done by sunny windows inside the home and it can work. And one last thought, do not forget to put the labels in the trays or cells. You will totally forget. Add a date to the label on the backside of the label, which will help you determine when you sowed them should you not see them come up later. Most packets will indicate how many days till they germinate. If they don’t come up, you can at least look at when you sowed them. Some seeds are a little slow to germinate, like hot peppers. Tomatoes tend to germinate faster.

Well, folks that’s it for today!

Thank you for visiting again!!

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
Broad Brook, CT

Grow a Giant Tomato, as Big as Your Heart

Leave a comment

It is Valentine’s Day weekend, so I thought it is appropriate to share information about how I grew big tomatoes in a big pot.

Upstate Oxheart Tomatoes

The reason I picked this seed a couple years ago to add to my growing list is just because I thought it would be super cool to grow giant tomatoes, and this variety did not disappoint. The tomato fruits were definitely stunners. Each tomato weighed between 2.5-3 lbs. and they were as big as grapefruit or bigger. The shape of the tomato is heart shaped. It is really fascinating when you cut one in half. I couldn’t get over how it truly looks like a heart. Another cool factor, they are nearly seedless. So if you like to cook with tomatoes and don’t want to bother removing the seeds from your sauces, this is the one.

The Flowers

When I saw the first flower on this plant, I thought, “Wow, these are big flowers and pretty.” I guess that was the first sign to me that the plant’s fruit would grow as promised and be big, really big. In addition to the flowers, I noticed the leaves seemed to droop a bit, and at first, I was worried something was wrong with the plants, but upon reading more, this habit, where it almost looks like the leaves are wilting downwards, was perfectly normal for this plant.

Upstate Oxheart Flowers

Indeterminate

This plant is indeterminate. It will require staking. In fact, it can grow rather tall, up to 18″ high or even reach 10 feet. I don’t think mine was as tall as 10 feet! But it did grow rather large and I grew a single plant in a huge black pot. Here you can see it in the pot.

Upstate Oxheart Tomato Plant in a Huge Pot

You do not have to get a pot this big, which it is about 3-4 feet tall and probably 2 feet or more in diameter, because I have grown these in 20 gallon fabric grow bags as well. You just need to bear in mind that it will require support because the stems will continue to grow and reach out. Additionally, the bigger the pot, the more growing power you give it.

Surrounded with wire

What I did with this one above was completely surround the pot with wire. The first year, I used chicken wire but the second year, I purchased a sturdier hard wire. It worked at keeping any animals away but it was tricky for me to reach down into the pot to get the tomatoes. Sometimes, I would get a small step ladder and carefully reach down to grab one as it ripened to a rosy color.

Oxheart – Wire around and the tomato starting to change color

This variety of tomato is ready to pick when it is a rosy color. Also, the fruits are soft to the touch. I am not sure how to describe the flavor, other than delicious. It is a delicate but powerful flavor, we really like eating these. My husband, Steve, described it like eating a steak. The meat of it is full, dense, and heavy. In fact, the fruits feel heavy when you pick them. They weigh up to 3 lbs! Maybe even more if you used a technique to try to grow them even larger, but it really starts with using seeds of plants which naturally grow a really big tomato, and this is one type which does.

Upstate Oxheart on a Plate

The first year, I started the seeds at the 10 week timing prior to our last spring frost. This is early March, but I felt like the plants were getting rather large when it was almost time to harden them off (put them outdoors to acclimate before permanently planting them into the pots outdoors), so this year, when I grow some of these, I am going to wait till the 6 week mark.

Normal for leaves to droop

Another thing I noticed about the habit of this variety, is the leaves droop down. They almost look like they are wilting, and at first, that concerned me. I was worried and did some more research discovering this was perfectly normal for this plant. When it grows larger outdoors, it has a messy hair look (for lack of better wording) but there is no need to panic. It will grow fruit just fine.

Surrounded with wire

The 2nd year I grew some of these, I decided to take bamboo stakes and push them into the top of the big black pot. Then I got some hardwire fencing material and wrapped it around. The last step was taking zip ties and attaching them to the bamboo stakes to secure all. This worked. It kept any critters away but it was tricky to reach down to grab the fruit. Sometimes I used a small step ladder to reach down into the plant to get the fruit. It was worth it.

Wire around the whole plant to protect from animals

Nearly Seedless

This variety, Upstate Oxheart, is nearly seedless. This is good if you wish to not have seeds in your sauces, but it is important to know, because the fruit is nearly seedless, you get a smaller amount of seeds in the packet, so each seed sown and grown is precious. When you cut the fruit open, you can see there is very little seed, and it does in fact look like the inside of a heart! Amazing!

Nearly Seedless and Shaped Like a Heart

When I would go check on the plant, I loved seeing the big tomato fruits starting to grow. Many of them would look perfect with no blemishes. Even though they got large, they rarely cracked. The plants start to produce fruit about 84 days from the time you transplant it into your pot or gardens.

At the green stage
At the green stage

Sometimes when I would reach in to take a photo, I would put my hand near the tomato so you could see how big it was getting, and the texture of it felt heavy and firm. As it ripes, as noted above, it starts to feel a little soft to the touch, like if you push slightly on it – it feels soft. When it turns a rosy color, it is ready. These also ripen very easily on the counter – which I discovered when I grew them on my deck in fabric grow bags last year. Because those were not wrapped in wire, a squirrel had discovered them, so I picked them before they got rosy and it was fine on the counter to ripen.

Doesn’t this Upstate Oxheart Tomato look delicious?

Oh another thing, which I just remembered, was I usually used pruner to cut them from the stem because they did not tug away easily. I didn’t want to damage them so pruners were used to cut the stem.

Sliced to Perfection

To give you an idea of the size, I put a wine opener on top of four slices. Just looking at these makes my mouth water. Another way I like to eat them, other than just taking a fork and knife and taking bites, is tossing them with pasta, basil, chopped garlic, olive oil and a little amount of balsamic vinegar (like a capful). Yumm.

Easy fresh – Just toss all together

I typically will mix all in a bowl first without the pasta and let it sit on the counter to blend the flavors. Then when the pasta is ready and hot, add that in. So easy, oh and let’s not forget the fresh parmesan cheese!

Look at this tomato – not a blemish!

The fruit may get a crack or two on the top from the weight, but overall, I felt like these were blemish free and smooth skinned. The seeds are started indoors 6-10 weeks prior to our last spring frost. I did not order more seed of this variety this year because I want to try some other heirlooms and beefsteak sized tomatoes, but I still have seed left and probably will grow a limited amount of the Upstate Oxhearts.

Now, on to the How-To’s.

Get the seed! Upstate Oxheart Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) gets a thumbs up in my gardening book. If you are local and want seed from me, see my contact information below. I sell the packets and can mail it to you or deliver if local. But if you want a big tomato, the first step is get the seed.

Get a big pot or a large fabric grow bag. Set it up in the sunniest place outdoors when it is time to move the seedlings (transplants) outdoors. I had the big black pot shown above in a very very sunny area, so sunny, it doesn’t get much shade at all, but it did require watering, and I would drag my garden hose there and hang it over the top of the wire, and let it run for a bit to water it.

Fill the pot with the appropriate potting mix, compost, some fertilizer, and you are good to go. Be sure when you plant it to surround it with support somehow right away, so as it grows, it will have the support/cage required to hold up those big fruits. Believe me, it is so fun to point them out. “Hey, come check out my giant tomato!” When I would show friends, they would gasp when they saw them. Sometimes they would ask me – what did you feed that plant?!

It is not the feeding, it was the variety and care to start with. Feeding only enhances an already really large tomato, so stunning, it will make your own heart beat!

Happy Valentine’s Day Everyone!

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

See my site: WorkshopsCT.com for Seed Sowing Kits!

Growing Dwarf Tomatoes and Are They Easier to Grow?

2 Comments

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!