Flowering Tropical Plants for Decks in Connecticut

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Are you new to Connecticut and have no idea what flowering plants you should grow in containers or patio pots on your deck this summer?

I saw this question asked by a CT newbie on a gardening group on Facebook recently, and thought, hmmm, that is a GREAT question.

So to start to answer the question above, I will share some of my suggestions. Let’s start with tropical plants:

Flowering Tropical Plants

If you are new to Connecticut, you may not be aware of the wonderful tropical style plants which showcase beautiful flowers and are perfect to grow in container gardens and patio pots on your deck this summer. The key thing to know about tropical plants is that you should not put them outdoors until after frost in the spring here in CT (known as the last frost date) because tropical plants can not tolerate frost conditions. Thus, the key timing is to put them out around Memorial Day as a guide. Frost usually occurs around mid-May and it changes slightly year to year but mid-May is a good all around watching point, check the weather forecasts, etc. Once we are past frost, many tropical plants do wonderfully during our summers here in Connecticut in pots, planters, and container gardens.

Blooms all summer

Another cool thing about using tropical plants is many tend to bloom all summer into the fall season, usually into September and October, without fading or wearing out as with other annuals type plants. They usually showcase long lasting flowers. And just as with spring timing, you have to take them in before the frost which occurs in the fall in Connecticut. I blog a lot about storing underground tubers, rhizomes, corms, etc. here on this site which you may search for in the fall on this blog by using the search word “overwintering” for more details on when you should take them in and steps to store them over the winter to reuse each season.

Hot Pink Canna Lily Flowers

Canna Lily Plants

Canna lily plants are not hardy in Connecticut, at least they used to not be hardy, but if grown in the ground, they sometimes come back (due to global warming). That’s another story, as the focus of my blog site and this post is about growing them in pots.

In pots, you may plant them using plants you would pick up from a local nursery (or from me if local to my area – see below). Or you may start them by purchasing the rhizomes and planting them in one gallon size nursery pots indoors with potting mix to give them an early start, in March. They will start to grow from the rhizomes inside the house, and then you may transplant them outdoors after our spring frost in Connecticut by the end of May typically.

Love full sun, grow really tall, not a lot of problems

Canna lily plants love full sun but they are also okay in part sun or even part-shade. Many grow really tall and others species or cultivars are dwarf sized. Anywhere from 4 feet to 8 feet or taller. Their flowers attract hummingbirds and the plants are easy care. Flowers are pink, red, yellows, peach, orange, and some have dark burgundy colored leaves.

Speckled with red on yellow flowers

I usually do not encounter insect problems with Canna lily plants, other than the Japanese beetles that come out one time a year in the summer, they may eat some of the leaves and you may see some holes, but the beetles don’t stay out all summer so I usually just cut the damaged leaves off and tolerate them for a month. This occurs in July or August on one or two plants. Sometimes they only bother one of my plants and leave the rest alone, so I don’t find them to be a nuisance.

How to plant them…

As far as planting them, use a good quality potting mix and add some compost. I typically add slow-release fertilizer to all my container gardens and patio pots as well. See my prior blog post, called the 5-Must Do’s for more information. I typically don’t regularly fertilize my Canna lily plantings on a monthly schedule, with liquid plant food as often recommended, unless I have the watering can with me and I’m fertilizing other plants, than maybe. But, in general, they are very easy to grow. They tend to be low-maintenance plants, other than the part about storing them over the winter, that is a bit of maintenance in the autumn season, but worth it if you wish to reuse them each season. And of course, as with all container gardens and patio pots, you must water them in the summer as needed.

Very Tall Canna (dark foliage) in a large square planter on my deck 2020

Can be top heavy…

One thing to note about Canna lily plants is that they do grow tall and their stems are usually thick enough to stand on their own, so staking is not required at all, but I typically grow them in large pots of 22″ in diameter at a minimum and about as deep. They tend to multiply and produce more shoots so a good clump can form over the summer. As a bigger clump of stems form, it can be top heavy in a pot, and if a small pot is used, they may toppled over from the wind at times. The rhizomes from which they grow are usually about 6 inches deep in the soil, so when you are ready to take them out by digging up the tubers in the autumn season, you will find them there in the soil below. And if you are growing a really tall variety, be aware a very windy location could tilt them, but I don’t encounter that here at my house on the deck. I’m talking if you grew them on a high rise or place where it is unprotected with super strong winds.

These toppled over from wind at times last year (pot was really not stable enough for the tall varieties)

Make More Plants!

Another great benefit to using Canna Lily plants is they tend to grow bigger rhizomes each season. You may dig up the rhizomes in the autumn season, and divide them into pieces and store them from late fall and over the winter in a cool basement, dark place, and where it will not freeze (where it will not drop below 32 degrees F). You get more plants over time with this process.

Thriller in Arrangements

As I’ve noted before, a good balance of plants in container gardens is having a thriller (tall center plant), spiller (drapes over the edges of pots and hangs down), and fillers (self-explanatory). Canna lily plants make excellent thrillers. They give height to your container and planters, and bloom all summer into fall, non stop. As flowers fade, just remove them if you wish, keep the plant cleaned up as desired, and enjoy them all summer on your deck. And best of all is seeing hummingbirds zoom up to the flowers while you sit and enjoy their show.

Pair Them Up With..

Practically anything. As you see in the photo above, I have succulents in the base of the planter with those tall Canna lilies and various annuals. They are great with practically any warm season loving plants that enjoy full to part sun. On this post, about my Aqua Blue Planter on my deck from 2020, you will see a list of the plants I used as fillers and spillers below the tall Canna lilies. Many larger leaved foliage type plants do well with Canna lilies as well, such as Elephant’s Ear (Colocasia), which are also tropical plants. They do flower but usually only one or two blooms. However, for a tropical look, I just love using the big ears of Colocasias with my Canna Lily plants and other topical plants with fantastic foliage. Because many succulents enjoy summer hot weather, they pair well as fillers too.

I will continue blog about other tropical plants great on decks in the summer in Connecticut.

Stay tuned or follow this blog to receive an email when each new post is published here.

Thanks for visiting,

Cathy Testa
Container Garden Designer and Installer
Broad Brook/East Windsor, CT
Zone 6b

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

How I start to Plan in the New Year

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Happy (or is it?) New Year 2022!

After waking up from the foggy mind, after our confusing holidays, I start to pull out my calendars from last year, which includes two (if not 3) wall style calendars, notebooks with key dates, reviewing my own blog posts from the past year for key dates, and going thru client binders to get my new 2022 calendars started.

Yes, I have all those various sources to track activity by dates. I want to remember the odd things that happened because it helps me to be prepared, or to try to plan ahead, and to remember, in the gardening world, lots of variables come into play (timing, weather, pandemics, etc.).

Unexpected Snow Fall in April?

For example, do you remember when we had a snow fall in April of 2021? I do. I purposely took a photo of the date scratched into the top of my fire pit cover, and I also noted the date on my 2021 wall calendars. The notations are reminders of things that can happen when you least expect it, or we should be expecting it, cause it probably happened the year before, or it may again…

Cold Rains on Memorial Day?

Like for example, do you remember the cold temperatures and crazy rain we had on Memorial Day weekend last year? It traumatized me because I literally finished planting a site the week before! I was so worried about the plants and how they would be impacted by the freak cold rain we got the whole weekend after I finished my job site. I went silent. My husband even asked me why I was so quiet as we drove out for a weekend at that time, and I told him, “I’m super disappointed in the weather we had over Memorial Day.” Then I stayed silent for the rest of the drive.

Flooding of Summer Fields…

Also, what about the floods we had in farmers’ fields in 2021 during the summer months – which impacted the availability and quality of pumpkins I use when I make succulent pumpkins in October, and of course the rain during the summer that messed up the ripening of our tomatoes?! Need I say more…?

And dare I say it, Ugh, COVID. As my friend posted recently, “We all want to say bye-bye to Covid!”

The darn Covid world. It is everywhere it feels like. We never thought it would last this long or rebound, right? How many challenges must we face? Let’s not get into how it impacted everything, shipping, staff, uncertainty, availability, etc. And the very sad and depressing things, such as many people getting sick, hospitals overwhelmed, it just seems hard to rise up again. My blood pressure has risen. From the stress (or too many sweets over the holidays.)

In the world of gardening, you do face challenges. I told a grower once, “Every single year, it is different.” They agreed. It was very hard to plan and predict in our usual manner.

Global warming impacts us too. We see lots of changes in weather. It is so unpredictable. Thus, my calendaring routine is even more critical. Or is it? Because sometimes, its been difficult to take a deep breath at times, and start again. But alas, it is January, and I must start again.

Today, is January 6th, 2022. It will be sunny (thankfully, because I have to take down some outdoor holiday decor) and it will snow tomorrow, but then be clear on Saturday (unless that changes). I’ve started to come out of my holiday brain fog and started looking at key gardening and planning ahead dates.

Sowing Information

I remember that last year, around this time, people started searching about sowing information for their seeds. So I’m going to re-share the link below where shared some tips from last year around this time:

Last Year’s Post in January 2021 above

I have to admit, I’m still not done reviewing things, but I’ve started, and it reminds me of this: January is about “planning” and probably early ordering (at least for me), February is “ramp up” month, March is “sowing” month, and April is “growing month” which goes into May. And hopefully this year’s end of May will bring better weather when we are ready to put all plants outdoors for our vegetables gardens and tropical plants, etc.

I know this post is a little choppy, but I needed to get it out there to let you know, I’m here and I guess I will take on the unexpected challenges yet again. Because when I’m in my greenhouse on sunny days in the winter, it revives me. I see the plants not giving up, despite being on the temperatures cool side in the winters, and some plants will even bloom. I’ve been witnessing, in fact, my Mangave plant blooming. It shot up a 10 ft tall stalk and the buds finally opened. They are still opening. The very top of the stalk is almost touching the roof. I have to step up on a ladder to get photos or look up as I did this this photo below taken a few days ago.

Mangave buds opening into 2022

In the meantime, I hope this post is not too blah, because besides all the gardening challenges of last year, I still encounter enthusiastic plant lovers and I still am very passionate about plants – and it makes it all worth it. I think I’ll be ready to go at it again. Stay tuned.

Cathy Testa
Container Gardens, Plants, Plant Gifts, Seeds, and More!
860-977-9473 (texts welcome)
containercathy at gmail.com
See also:

www.WorkshopsCT.com
www.ContainerGardensCT.com
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com (you are here now).

Wreath Making Time

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I hear the wind blowing outside as I type this – Yup, I’m an early bird. Lots to do, wreaths to make, and holiday gift orders to create.

If you are local and interested, please feel free to reach out regarding my custom hand-made wreaths with a fresh mix of greenery, bow and some décor, or bow-less, which some people prefer.

2021 Wreaths Made to Order for Porch Pick-ups, Broad Brook, CT

I started humming Christmas tunes the other day as I was gathering up my beautiful fresh greenery materials to make a wreath. Usually, I start watching or listening to an old classic holiday movie while I make the wreaths, because watching is not really possible as I’m looking down as I work to create a wreath, adding decor and items after I assemble the wreath itself. But hearing the holiday themes of a good movie provide me that uplifting feeling of the holidays coming up and decking our halls with greenery!

Hubby Holding Wreath

I have to admit, I do think about the crowd of attendees at my former Holiday Wreath and Kissing Balls Workshops from time to time. There was always a “spirit of good holiday vibes” with me when I would setup my workshop space for the annual workshop tradition, but alas, those have ceased (when COVID hit and also because I think Cathy T KB Clause got a bit worn out.) Setting up the space was very time consuming. It was almost like throwing a mini wedding, but I’m so happy to create custom wreaths and other items since I ceased the workshops! My offerings are outlined on www.WORKSHOPSCT.com for more information.

Large KB’s

The next best thing is making custom orders for everyone. I’m still here working at it, so if you need a wreath and are local, contact me – while supplies last. Ho-Ho-Ho, let’s Go-Go-Go!!!

Thank you – Cathy T.

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT
Broad Brook, Connecticut
860-977-9473
For More Info about Holiday Products at www.WORKSHOPSCT.com

Holiday Time 2021

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For more information regarding this year’s custom orders, please visit www.WorkshopsCT.com. Please note, Container Crazy CT, is not offering the holiday workshops any longer. This was due to the onset of COVID. However, we are offering custom orders for pick up of wreaths and holiday kissing balls, as well as boxes of fresh greens, if you wish to make your own creation at home. All is arranged by porch-pick-up’s. See the details on site noted above.

Thank you for your interest!

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

Overwintering Canna Lily Rhizomes Part II

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In my prior post, I detailed my process for overwintering my canna lily plant rhizomes in my area of Connecticut (Zone 6). I’m continuing it here for those who have asked questions (some asked in person and some via Facebook recently).

Basic Steps:

As noted on my prior post, cut down all the foliage, dig up the root ball, brush or wash away the soil, and let the rhizomes with a stalk attached air dry. After the rhizomes sat in the sun for a day, it was much easier to pull them apart to separate the rhizomes from larger clumps.

These rhizomes with partial stalks were left out on the table for a day in the sun

When I showed a friend how to do this process in person, she freaked out when I pulled the rhizomes by the stalks to separate them and then I started tapping the rhizomes on the ground to knock off more dirt. She was worried I was damaging them, and I said, “Oh, don’t panic, they will be fine.” I thought it was kind of funny but I get it – you don’t want to ruin them.

How to separate the big clumps

Sometimes when you have Canna Lily plants growing in a container for several years, when you pull the root ball out, it is one big clunk of a mass of roots and rhizomes all stuck together. It can be hard work to pull them apart. It is better to separate the rhizomes so when you replant them, they will be individual plants. The big clump over time will just not produce as nice of plants and will reduce the flowers. What I find is I try to separate them as much as I can and if they are really stuck together, let them sit in the sun for a day or two, and after it is dried out, take a stalk in each hand and pull apart and usually they will come apart easily.

Big Clumps “before” they sat in the sun for a day. Above photo this photo is after.

See the larger clump on the top right? That clump was much easier to separate after I let it sit in the sun for a day and overnight. Sometimes you will hear a “snap” like noise as you pull the stalks and the sections cracked away, and that is fine within reason. You basically do your best to separate them cleanly, but if they don’t – one or two cracks in the rhizomes is not going to ruin it all. After I separated them, I also cut the stalks to be about 4″ from the top of the rhizomes and let it all sit in the sun again for another day.

Preparing the Storage Bins

I store my canna lily rhizomes in plastic bins. Narrow bins work better. The deep bins are not necessary and if you stack too many rhizomes in a deep bin, they tend to rot more. So the narrow boxes are just right. You want to lay the rhizomes next to each other versus piling them up on top of each other for best results.

Last fall, I made the big mistake of not drilling some air holes in the new bins I had purchased, and some of my elephant’s ear tubers had rotted (ack!). Never again. So get your drill out and make holes the size of a pencil eraser. Not much bigger than that. You want little holes, not big holes. Also, put the peat moss about 1/3 of the bottom. Do not fill the container with the peat. You only need enough to allow a nice bed for the rhizomes to sit on with some of the peat poured over the top lightly.

Narrow Bins Work Best
Rubber Maid Box Lid

When I asked my husband if the drill was charged, he responded with, “What size drill bit do you need?” My response was, one the size of an eraser of a pencil. He got it. I don’t speak measurements well. Everything is visual for me! I want the holes to be tiny and just enough for some air circulation to occur in the box. It needs to breath just a little while it sits in my unheated basement for the winter months.

Label the box

I can’t stress enough the importance of labeling the box with the date and the items you put in there. I wrote it down in a notebook one year and then couldn’t find the notebook later! It just helps IF you are storing several types of tropical plants underground storage organs (tubers, rhizomes, corms, bulbs, etc.).

Stalks cut shorter, and allowed to dry in the sun again

After I trimmed the stalks to be shorter, I let them air dry again because otherwise that open fleshy wound could invite insects in the bin. It somewhat cures the rhizomes, you may also want to turn them over mid day to let it dry on the other side. Doing this on sunny days is best because if it rains, they get wet all over again.

One of the separations

More plants next season

One of the best motivators for doing all this work is you will end up with many rhizomes to plant when you bring them back to life in the spring time.

About the peat

Peat with some Perlite

About the peat

Does peat confuse you? It used to confuse me – cause peat moss is also used for hanging baskets or other projects in the gardening world. Do not use “Long Fibered Sphagnum Moss” which is used in hanging baskets, it is a more light dull brown color, and it does not work appropriately. It can hold onto moisture too much. The “Long fibered” moss, like shown in this photo below, is useful in craft projects, etc., but I find it does not work well for storing tubers, rhizomes, corms, etc. It stays too wet and doesn’t repel problems.

img
Do not use this type for storing the rhizomes

Use the brown spaghnum peat moss that typically comes in bags or square bales. It looks like this:

It looks like this without the white perlite

Last year, I had some extra perlite (white round balls in the photo below) which I tossed into a bin. Perlite is not in peat moss (just thought I’d mention that for observant people! LOL.).

In Bales or Half Bales

Available in compressed bales or half-bales

I’m not recommending any particular “brand” but usually I buy a compressed big bale like the one shown above, put it in a wheelbarrow, and break it apart with a small shovel. This type of peat is used in gardens, as soil amendments, and in potting mixes. It is used dry and I find it maintains well for several years, so the peat in my storage bins is reused over and over again “unless I had some type of bug or rot issue” in the bin which hasn’t occurred too much over the years. Also, I’ve read the peat moss’s acidic nature helps to keep problems out of the bin and away from the rhizomes. But we won’t go into that here, as I am trying to keep it simple. It is a great item to use because it retains a tad bit of any moisture just enough but allows air too.

Air holes along the top edge too

You will notice I drilled a few holes along the top edge of the bin too. If you are stacking these bins in your basement, the airholes on the top may be covered by the box above it so side holes are helpful.

Now, I’ve been told these things by people:

I just put my whole pot with the plant in the basement. (Yes, that works, but over time a big root ball in a pot won’t perform as well so eventually it is time to divide those rhizomes.)

I just put it in newspaper. (I am guessing this works but I trust my process and just keep doing it this way).

I just leave the canna plants in the ground. (Years ago, we could not leave the canna plants in the ground. They would freeze and die BUT I have found some that I planted in the ground next to my fireplace wall where the woodstove is used inside the basement, the canna lily plants have regrown. I believe the soil being a warmer in that area and the fact we have warmer temps from global warming has led to “some” canna lily plants surviving our winter ground temperatures, but I wouldn’t bet on it for any in containers left outdoors as they would certainly freeze. If you want to store the whole pot in the basement and not remove it to divide the plants, that is another option.)

I can’t be bothered with storing the rhizomes and will just get plants from you next year. (Yes! Sounds good to me. I grow many canna lily plants in spring and offer them for sale.)

Waiting on Storing this one!

Timing

All of this work may wait if you want to enjoy your tropical non-hardy plants here in CT, like this one I’m standing next to. I am waiting to do this one till at least early October because I am in love with this Alocasia. I almost lost tubers I had stored of these because of the non-air hole situation described above. The biggest leaf on this plant seems to be just getting bigger and bigger.

Gorgeous Alocasia Leaf 2021

Well, that’s it for today. I am continuing my work today outside here at my home. My husband has a joke that before we know it, it will be Halloween, then Thanksgiving, and then Christmas! I will say, “Stop saying that! Because I love my deck filled with plants and it depresses me to take all this down, but he is correct. Time flies when you are having fun.”

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Cathy Testa
Container Gardening Designer
860-977-9473
Broad Brook/East Windsor, CT
Today’s Weather: 75-79 degrees F. Cloudy till about noon.
Tomorrow Weather thru Wed – looks good, then rain at end of the week. Rain equals wet working outside. I’ll thank myself later that I did this in the sun and not fighting the elements!

What I do for work:

Install Container Gardens
Grow Plants from seeds (and rhizomes, tubers, etc.)
Create and sell Succulent Topped Pumpkins in fall (next month!)
Create and sell handmade greenery wreaths and kissing balls for the holidays (December!)
Write with typo’s – LOL.
Stare at plants as much as possible
Have a good day…

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.

Time to Talk Tomatoes

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This year (2021) was not the best tomato year for me in regards to my plants. At first, they were massive, perfect, free of blemishes or issues, and then we had many repeat rainstorms with abundant rain falls and winds strong enough to bend a metal patio umbrella pole in half on my deck. Most of the tomatoes ripened slower than usual and stayed green for a long time. But some did start to ripen enough for me to to have a few tomatoes and start taste testing. On my list are the following new types I grew this year from seed.

GOLDIE TOMATO

Goldie Heirloom Tomatoes

When my husband sliced one onto a plate last night before dinner, he shook his head with approval and said, “These are good.” I replied with “Yes, and I sure will grow these again next season, hopefully with better weather.”

Reasons I love these Goldies are: They are blemish free (except they seem to have a bit of a sunken stem center but a friend shared her fruit photo from the plant she got from me and has the same look, so this is normal), they are a wonderful large size (perfect for sandwiches) and I LOVE the bright yellow color. The intense yellow color looks amazing with other colors of red or purple hued tomatoes and dark green basil leaves on a plate. This is an heirloom to keep on my growing list for next year. The fruit is sweet, soft, and has a nice texture. I still have seed packets available and if interested in buying some packets, reach out – at least you will have them in your seed stock pile for next season, or you may purchase the starter plants from me next year. I am definitely growing these again.

Friend’s Photo of a Goldie Tomato
Perfect Complextion! LOL!

The Goldie tomato plants are indeterminate and grow to about 6 feet high. The packets indicate they become “richly orange gold” but we had picked them on the golden yellow side. I noticed a green one I placed on my window sill just yesterday is starting to turn yellow already in one day.

CHEROKEE PURPLE TOMATO

The next amazing heirloom I grew from seed, which is a winner for taste and beauty in my book, is the Cherokee purple. It grows a purple-hued tomato with green shoulders. These started to ripen before the Goldies, and the seed packet indicates they are an early-producer. The fruit turns a blush deep purple and shoulders stayed green which is normal. They are super pretty when sliced and placed on the plate!

Cherokee Purple Tomato

Again, I wish my plants performed better because we would have had a larger harvest, but at least, I am able to “taste test” these for next year’s growing. It is also an indeterminate plant like the Goldie, and grows to about 5 feet tall. You definitely need good supports on the plant for the wonder fruit. If I was a restaurant owner, these would have to be in my kitchen garden. They are gorgeous.

Cherokee Purple Tomato
PAUL ROBESON TOMATO

PAUL ROBESON TOMATO

The Paul Robeson Tomato, named after a famous African-American opera singer, linguist, athlete, and civil rights champion, looks very similar to the Cherokee Purple tomato. It has an orange-green color with purple streaks or patterns. It is a beefsteak size. It resists cracking (which seems to be the case with the Goldie and Cherokee Purple as well) and also is an a tall grower, reaching six feet high. I have one on my counter right now and will taste test it today. The seed packet indicates it has a intense sweet smoky flavor.

Because the season’s growing was impaired, I don’t feel I am getting the true taste of these, because if we had a sunnier warmer summer, I can only imagine how much more intense the flavor would be. I started to ask people who bought plants from me how their plants are doing. Some said amazing, some said, not so good due to weather. However, I also asked, should I grow them again next year? And they all resoundingly replied, “Heck Yah!” This made me happy because I grew a real lot of tomato starts this season and I don’t want folks to be discouraged.

If you love tomatoes home grown, you can’t help but try again and again every season to grow them. It is addicting and you need to be an optimist, or one that can sooth their disappoints with a glass of vino! LOL, JK. But sometimes I think, can I handle another year that wasn’t as expected? Can I do it again? Well, let me tell you, just one tomatoe answered that question to be yes. The flavors can not be beat on these homegrown heirloom tomatoes. Hands-down. Unless you are able to find a big grower locally, you will not find these types of home grown taste in a typical grocery store.

OXHEART TOMATO

I only grew a few of the Oxhearts this season and sold them to friends as starter plants, and I didn’t keep one for me. I kind of regretted that in ways, but then again, I have only so much room on my deck. So, a couple who did grow the plants from me gave me one Oxheart last weekend when we met up for a kayaking day. I was so happy to take it home and saved it for a sandwich.

OXHEART TOMATO

These Oxhearts are heavy, nearly seedless, soft to the touch, and really unique and amazing to eat. I mean they just taste so amazing, and for as long as I live, I will never regret growing and eating some of these. I have an Uncle up north in New Hampshire, and he has the most amazing vegetable gardens you have ever seen. I sent him a packet last year and said, grow these. He has been measuring his fruits from his Oxheart plant raving about the sizes. Wait till he tastes them!

NEXT YEARS VARIETIES

I know I will repeat the tomatoes noted above for next year. I will probably get tempted to order another new heirloom seed stock but for now, I have plenty to get my juices flowing in early spring of 2022. I will post again on the other tomatoes I started and grew and a few hot pepper plants soon. In the meantime, today, we witness rain again – all day, but you know what, it will water my new grass seed in a part of my yard, so that is good!

As I’m typing this – there goes the fire sirens in Broad Brook. This means something is happening. Lightening is flashing by my window and the thunder is booming. I better post this before I loose power at the house!

Cathy Testa
Tomato Grower
Container garden Installer
Holiday Decor and Gifts
Blogger
Kayaker
860-977-9473
containercathy@cathytesta

http://www.WorkshopsCT.com
http://www.ContainerGardensCT.com
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com (you are here now).

Seed Sowing with Kids

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Yesterday, I hand-delivered my first two Seed Sowing Kits to a friend, Wendy. She has attended my workshops in the past, and always enjoyed being here to make plant related creations and learn about plants. She was a regular attendee for a long time.

Most of the time, Wendy attended my workshops with her 20-something daughter. I always enjoyed watching the comradery between Wendy and her daughter, Ashley, at my plant related workshops.

This is Wendy!

When they attended my annual Holiday workshops, they always dressed very festive with colorful holiday tops and hats. Always fun, fun. They have different personalities but both very much enjoy, what they call, “Crafting.” Wendy has a more care free style of crafting and creating, and Ashley likes symmetry in her designs.

They became my Mom and Daughter Holiday Models! You can see why – I love this photo.
Ashley and Wendy 2019 – The final year I held my Annual Holiday Workshop

But Wendy also has a young son, Nathan. He is seven years old, and it turns out, he really enjoys gardening and planting things. Last summer, she shared photos of him with his seedlings, vegetable plants, and other items related to gardening. He is rather cute and it is fun to see him in their photos with his plants.

So, Wendy, turned out to be my first customer of my Seed Starting Kits this year, and she lives very near me too. I included a Kid’s Seedling Handout where her son may track his sowed seeds week by week. She actually ordered two kits so they can make it an exercise together. And, although it is only February, and the sowing doesn’t begin till March, this gives them both the opportunity to look over everything in the seed sowing kit and make plans to do this activity together. The kits include potting mix, seed sowing trays, seeds, tools, and several instructional sheets as well as a planting calendar specific to the seeds they selected to be in their kits.

Seed Sowing Kit Bags

Because so many kids are home today due to COVID (and perhaps a snow day from school or at home schooling), these kits are great for Moms or Dads with kids who would like an activity to enjoy soon. It is something, frankly, to look forward to. We all know the month of February may feel long, well, maybe not for kids if they are playing outside in the snow! But for me, I get anxious for spring during the month of February.

This month, I am offering FREE delivery of my Seed Sowing Kits to people local to my area in Broad Brook, CT. Or adjacent towns too (Ellington, Windsor Locks, Enfield, for example.) The details about the kits are on my site called WorkshopsCT.com. If anyone is interested, they may send me an email or text to get the list of the seeds I have available and more information if any you have any questions. It is primarily warm season vegetables (tomato, cherry tomato, hot peppers, heirlooms, herbs, flowers, etc.). All certified organic seed source is used. I hand pick the types I like each season – always switching it up to taste new goodies! I also offer videos available from Facebook on the how-to’s as I sow my own seeds so anyone purchasing the kits (or seed packets if they prefer) may view the videos to join along to learn how to sow their seeds with other tips as the plants grow.

The kits come with all needed to start sowing your warm season vegetable plant of choice

I don’t have any kids of my own (except my husband, haha – just kidding!) so I really enjoy when I see kids succeed at gardening via the stories and posts by parents or grand-parents who have reached out to me for plant related items. I guess in a way, it gives me a chance to witness how the kids enjoyed growing their own plants, from afar.

One time my young nephew, Mitchell, came into my greenhouse, and I have to say, he asked some great questions. He also suggested I move my huge spiny tipped Agave to another area because he got pricked by a spine of the plant as he walked by it. He asked or I should say suggested, “Auntie Cathy, why don’t you move this over there?!” LOL, I thought. But he was right, I’ve gotten attacked by that big Agave too at times.

I always treat my nephew, Mitchell, to a freebie plant when he visits, but this past year, there haven’t been many visits because of COVID, but I hope that this spring or summer, some of that will be improved if COVID ever calms down. I am planning to drop off some seedling items to him and his Mom soon. His younger brother seems to enjoy “watering plants” with the garden hose, as I witnessed last summer too – via a post!

Anyhow, Mitchell likes plants, and I love that he shares a passion of his Auntie’s passions. He asked me specific questions on care when I gave him a cacti plant once, and he truly inspects them. I thought, this kid is a plant lover. He asked me if the small succulents I had in 2″ pots were from that big Agave that he suggested I move.

Good question, I thought. I responded with, “No, they are not from that plant, but they do look similar and have similar growing characteristic and needs,” which we discussed further, but then his focus was on another plant as he decided which he would like to take home. Too cute. He also seems to sense when I like a particular plant of the group displayed. He is smart! He knows that I have my favorite plants in the greenhouse. He watches me and then says, “I want that one.”

My sister (his Mom), Rosalie, told me later, you know he yelled at me when I said you should water that plant Cathy gave you. Mitchell responded, “No! Cathy said not to water this cactus too often.” That made me feel like he listened and he learned something new. Again, too cute. If he wasn’t interested in plants, he would have ignored it altogether.

Think Ahead – get your kits now for sowing in March

I hope that anyone who gets the Seed Sowing Kits from me this season will learn new things too, especially if they are sowing with their kids. I hope it adds some fun to their day. I can’t wait to see how Nathan does with his seeds later this season, and see new fun photos.

And, by the way, seed sowing is enjoyed at any age. It is truly a great inspiration to see a seed sprout and grow into a full sized plant to enjoy the harvest from in the summer.

Thank you,

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

Potting Mix for Seed Sowing

So COVID Confused

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My annual ritual, for as far back as I can remember, is to start planning out my yearly calendar on the first week of January. I will take out my past year’s calendars actually, and look at all the activity I’ve written on each date and transpose the important items to my new calendar.

Last year, I purchased a formal fancy book calendar planner with many pages and sections because I had a great deal of goals to outline and try to balance. Things like setting up workshops, teaching a class to a school, setting dates for my container garden installations at clients, and sowing seeds. The book style calendar was new in addition to the wall style calendars I use to plan other activity. For example, I keep a separate calendar just for seed sowing and noting dates along the way of the plants’ progress, etc.

But this year, I’m feeling very “COVID confused.” I pulled out my new wall 2021 calendar yesterday morning to start this process. I sat there at times just thinking and feeling off balance or not sure what to notate. At times, I don’t even remember not noting some things from last year’s changes because it was a confusing year and because of how much the pandemic changed our calendars and timing in 2020. What I mean is, I would sit there and think, “Didn’t I write that or this down?” But at times, I missed even noting an important date down on my 2020 calendar. I guess calendaring just went out the window as I and we all dealt with unforeseen changes to our daily and weekly routines.

Looking at 2021 – Feeling COVID Confused

In fact, when I looked at my 2020 wall calendars, most of what is written on some key dates are the words, “Cancelled.” We all know what that is about. It started with hearing about the pandemic, then seeing that as hopeful as we were, we would have to eventually cancel in-person or group activities, like my plant related workshops.

My book style 2020 calendar turned into nothing more than a place to collect dust on my home office desk. I remember, I even typed out a separate list of dates to be sure to plan carefully so I would not wear myself out and make priorities on the most important business items of the year. But that typed out list was meaningless. It is like wow, I couldn’t even follow my grand plan last season, although I was busy and had many work related activities continue, it did not follow a “plan or calendar.” It followed the pace of what occurred, versus what was planned.

Then it felt like someone pulled a prank on me. None of that “book style 2020 calendar” was followed. However, I still kept my small business going, and in fact, some of my business actually perked up. That’s another story for another time, but I don’t always buy a “book style calendar” and last year I did – and it was almost like the feeling of “a joke.” I didn’t even use it! Someone pulled a prank on me. That someone, or something, we all know is the pandemic that showed up in our lives.

As I look at my first 2021 new wall calendar, and started to do this annual “ritual” of writing past dates or key dates on the calendar, I started to feel very confused. I call it “COVID confused.” I literally felt like lost.

I didn’t really feel like I had a clear head. I even thought to myself, “Well Self, Just pretend nothing has changed and proceed as normal.” Not sure that is a smart idea though? We all know nothings normal now.

However, fortunately for me, much of what I have done for my small business has been “on my own” anyhow, and much of it can be planned without interaction of others, at least the items I grow and sell. I thank the Nature Gods and whomever blessed me with the notion to build a greenhouse for that. Working solo in a greenhouse saved me last year. And so did the people who supported me with their Zero-Contact Porch-Pick-ups during the pandemic year which started in 2020.

Photo around Thanksgiving Time 2020 and Added Words in 2021!

If I am honest with myself, I made the decision to cancel offering workshops before this pandemic arrived. I was thinking about doing so. Part of that is because I think maybe my age. It is such a huge effort to put on workshops. And I also developed tinnitus (ear ringing) which is 24 x 7 in my ears/head, which started about 3.5 years ago, and it hasn’t improved. It messes up my sleep and stress makes it louder. I started to feel as though I didn’t have the energy required to put on my workshops, and with a pandemic, forget it. There was no way I could take that risk of spreading a virus in my workshops, and my mind was not ready to do online courses, etc.

Another reason I thought to not do those workshops anymore, even if they brought me so much joy at times, is that everyone and their brother (and, sister?) are offering workshops now. When I first offered them over 10 years ago, they were not that commonplace. It was my unique way of reaching the plant lovers in my passionate plant world.

Then I saw “cookie cutter” workshops happening by big companies and hiring non-experts to teach them in SOME CASES, in my opinion. I don’t really care for cookie-cutter. I like personalization, uniqueness, and convenience for my attendees. I worked hard at all of that. Now workshops were being held in bars and filling and they were paying more than what I charged. You can see where I’m going here.

Anyhow, so for my calendaring ritual, I knew, those “cancelled” workshops don’t even need to be on my 2021 calendar this year – so strike that from my list. They say, never say never, so I won’t but I don’t think I’ll be offering my workshops again. Or if I did, it would be some new format or style, but I don’t know what that is at all at this point. As I said, I’m COVID Confused.

I think a lot of us will feel “confused” this year on how to proceed. I know I’m not alone in that aspect.

I’ve been using an app called Calm for about 6 months now. I absolutely love it. It offers “sleep stories, sleep music” and many other meditative benefits. Every morning, before I get up, I do a meditation offered in their daily Calm series. This morning, they discussed “looking within” instead of looking outside of yourself when trying to find yourself or answers. I thought, “Hmmm, let me ponder this.”

I know that within, I absolutely felt joy when offering seeds, seedlings, and installing container gardens for clients. These are definitely going to continue as part of my small business offerings. I also know I absolutely love making custom plant gifts. But this year, things will change in regards to the Planning, Preparing, and Pace. Some will stay the same, but some will change. If the new strain of the virus spreads and things get worse again, the pace will change, the planning may change, but I still will prepare as best as possible.

Have a great first week of January 2021 everyone.

Stay Safe. Happy New Year.

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

My Other Websites:

http://www.WORKSHOPSCT.com
http://www.ContainerGardensCT.com