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

Making a Simple Wreath

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I tend to make full, lush, and thick wreaths, but sometimes less is nice too. Because I picked up some beautiful shore pine in my mix of greenery this year for my custom orders of wreaths and holiday kissing balls, I started to play with this single type of green and created some simple wreaths.

Shore Pine Branches

Shore pine holds together tight clusters of deep green needles on its branches and many of the branches, about 24-27″ long, have nice tight cones on them. The branches are flexible and bendable, making them useful for making simple and quick wreaths. And the needles run along the whole length of the branches (unlike traditional pine branches).

Small Wreath with Shore Pine

This was the first small wreath I made with it and I used a grapevine base wreath to attach the shore pine branches to it. It was very simple to do. Just lay the branches on top of the grapevine wreath and wrap green florist wire at intervals here and there. As noted, the branches are flexible, so I was able to lay down long pieces at a time and just kind of adjust them into a circle.

Gumball Red Berries

Adding these perfectly round gumball sized red berries was a breeze too. No glue gun required. I simply inserted them thru the shore pine and into the grapevine wreath. Because this wreath was intended to be indoors (or between a door and storm door), I didn’t have to worry about over anchoring the gumball decor.

White Bird House

Then I started to get addicted to this greenery! I added some to the base of a white bird house I have hanging outdoors, and that was easy too. And I added some larger cones. Sometimes less is more. It is so cute. I hope a bird moves in.

Another one made

It was at this point, I decided this shore pine greenery is a theme in my home for the holidays this year. You see, I am busy doing other orders for people, I still haven’t made a wreath or holiday kissing ball for myself. Using this beautiful thick, dark green and pretty holiday shore pine became a solution for me to add fresh holiday greens here and there around my home in a quick fashion, and I’m liking how it looks.

Hanging on a White Vase

I know I’m going to be using more of it, and I already put some around a large green globe I have – more on that later, after I finish it, and I know I’m going to make some garland for around the house with it too.

I don’t know about you, but I am not letting the non-large gatherings stop me from decorating this year. We need, yes, “NEED”, to have a festive surroundings in our lives. It is a way to get through the holidays this year, if you ask me!

If you are interested in obtaining a bundle of the shore pine greenery or a box of mixed greens, look me up – it is easy as 1 call or text, 2 setup a pick up time, 3 drive up and grab and go!

Thank you for your orders!

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

The Rewards are Coming In

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Summer Sunrise dwarf tomato is a new plant I grew from seed this year. I have been anticipating the ripening of its fruit, and one fruit finally changed to its golden yellow color with a pink blush on the bottom. It is also one of my first dwarf plants I’ve grown. The anticipation was greater than usual because I wanted to see how these taste, but this comes later in the day today. I wait to share the first taste with my hubby, Steve.

dwf tomatoes by C Testa Copywrite_0001

It is funny how a person will get so excited to try new fruits from plants one grows themselves, especially this year, because I had some plants (not the dwarfs though) that experienced problems like blossom-end rot (as noted in a prior blog post). However, my first two dwarf plants are doing fine and the fruits are ripening now. I have another dwarf variety which I will blog about later as well. The other is called Mandurang.

dwf tomatoes by C Testa Copywrite_0002

Good things come to those who wait – and I did wait to see my first Summer Sunrise dwarf tomato fruit ripen. I expected the fruits on the plant to be a bit larger but so far they are small to medium sized. That is fine, the flavor will be just as good I am sure. I am saving this one for a taste test tonight with my tomato-lovin’ husband, Steve, as noted above. It is a fun ritual. He loves tomatoes.

dwf tomatoes by C Testa Copywrite_0003

Also, last night, I made my first batch of fresh pesto. It is ironic. I have eaten fresh pesto before, after all, I married an Italian and they have made it at dinners many times in the summer, so I know how good it tastes, yet, I had never taken the time to make it myself – which is just silly, because it takes so little time. It is easy. And I usually have fresh basil to make it with in the summer months.

Genovese Basil

 

I grew Genovese Basil from seed this year (again, as I did the last couple years), and it is a keeper. I gathered up a bunch from my planter, and used a small batch recipe primarily because I have a small chopper device that only holds about 1.5 cups of ingredients. It worked fine and was just enough pesto for two people.

The Pesto Recipe

The recipe called for the following:

1 cup fresh basil leaves
3 gloves garlic, peeled (I used 4 gloves, and it was very garlic strong, but we love garlic)
3 tablespoons pine nuts (which I picked up at Whole Foods the day before, but friends have since told me they use walnuts as a substitute)
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan (a must have to put in the chopper but also some to top off your pasta)
Salt (I used sea salt) and black pepper to taste
1/3 cup olive oil
Your choice of pasta if you plan to mix it with pasta

Freshly Picked

When I picked the fresh Genovese Basil from my deck planters, I just guessed at the amount and then I removed the leaves from the stems and kind of pushed it into my measuring cup to the 1 cup mark. I’m not sure if you are supposed to push the leaves down into the cup but I just figured, the more basil, the better.

dwf tomatoes by C Testa Copywrite_0004

I was sure to follow the 1/3 cup of the “extra virgin olive oil” measurement, as to not over do it with oil, and I drizzled it in thru the opening in the top cover of the chopper as I pulsed the mixture together in the mini chopper.

dwf tomatoes by C Testa Copywrite_0006

The Genovese Basil is a perfect pesto basil, that is for sure. The leaves are a deep green and leaves are medium sized to large. I started the seeds in my greenhouse early in the year (about 2-4 weeks before frost) and then transplanted them into medium sized terracotta pots. I water them at least once a day if the soil is dry, which it usually is in this heat. I also sold a lot of Genovese Basil seed packets this year to people as well as starter plants I had grown, which I plan to do next season again.

The basil plants grew huge and are healthy. I have topped them off – meaning snipped off the tops, constantly as I harvest for meals for at least a month now, and never let it go to flower. It is still growing strong and staying green. You may sow basil seeds at monthly intervals too, before we get a fall frost, but so far, my two plants are plentiful.

As noted above, I have a mini chopper and not a large food processor, but did you know you can make pesto with a mortar and pestle? I read in the seed packet that the word “pesto” comes from pestle. Interesting.

After mixing it up in the food chopper, it is just a matter of tossing the pesto into warm drained cooked pasta and voila. Of course, topping it with more Parmesan cheese is needed. And the better quality the Parmesan, the better it all tastes.

Pesto by C Testa Copywrite_0001

As they say, we learn something new every day, and I’m glad I learned how to make fresh pesto, as well as try new tomato varieties. Both the Summer Sunrise dwarf tomato plants and the Genovese Basil plants make excellent candidates for kitchen gardens in patio pots and container gardens due to their sizes and uses. In this case, big leaves for pesto from the basil, and controlled plant height of the dwarf tomato plant for snacking tomatoes. The dwarf plant stays to about 4 feet max and is perfect for a big pot. Both are keepers on my list.

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

 

 

More than Just Succulents

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My nephew, Ross, visited me recently and told me, after his first year of growing tomato plants in pots and purchasing tomato starts from me, that he had no idea I was growing tomato plants from seed and selling them before this year. He continued to say, “I thought you only sold succulents!”

Well, it is kind of ironic, isn’t it? That your own family member may not be aware, although I swear I post so much online, that I have been growing tomato starts the past few years.

It is true that I do a lot with succulents. In fact, I really want to start on writing some PDFs or an online book of trusted methods I’ve learned about succulents. But succulents are not my only plant passion or focus, that is for sure.

However, because succulents have been a highlight over the past few years, I thought I’d share a container garden I did this year for a client.

Slide1

The tall blue glazed pot matches other succulent dish gardens on their tables and this was a new addition to their list of beautiful embellishments on their balcony. I searched out a tall heavy pot and succulents are a perfect fit for this full sun location.

You can see in the photo above, the succulents are starting to bloom. The long stems are gracefully rising above the plants and the blooms are on the ends. Hummingbirds will visit the blooms but I’m not sure they go that high! Their balcony is up there!

However, the clients once told me that they heard a loud noise coming from another planter on their balcony, and low and behold, they found a tree frog. Sometimes tree frogs make their way into nursery pots. I can not imagine I planted a plant without seeing it – but it is either that or that darn tree frog made its way up high that is for sure.

Slide2

Here is a photo of the left and right sides of this planter with the succulents. I love mixing the various textures and tones of succulent plants, which are extremely drought tolerant, and love sun (most of them).

These clients take good care of watering their planters, and these plants will grow rapidly as a result of care, sun, and great soil along with a top dress of pea gravel to help with moisture retention plus it looks pretty and finished, in my opinion, and per my recommendations to the clients.

Slide3Every time I install plants for my clients, I also give them instructions, care tips, and plant information. But I do more than “just succulents” (as my nephew noted last weekend). Now he knows, and you know, if you are new to this blog.

I will be sharing more about the individual succulent plants in the blue pot above, but I also wanted to repeat – that I also sell tomato starts in the early spring (all grown from seed, certified organic, and unique varieties), and I also offer workshops (but those are all on hold this year due to COVID-19), and I create unique things with plants. And I install container gardens of many types of plants.

In the fall, I make succulent topped pumpkin centerpieces, and in the winter, I make custom wreaths and kissing balls with gorgeous mixes of fresh evergreens, and I also make custom unique plant gifts (dish gardens, hanging globes, succulents in small containers, or other types of containers, and more).

I work or should say, design, with big tropical plants, various perennials and annuals, succulents, cacti, and vegetables. I guess you could say I have dabbled in a lot of types of plant creations.

Ross discovered that it was more than just succulents this year. He said he had time due to COVID-19, so he started reading, researching, and learning about tomato plants. This could be just the start of his plant passion. Here is he in a photo below.

Ross 2020tomatoe

My nephew with one of his 15 tomato plants!

I am thoroughly pleased that my nephew, Ross, discovered my tomatoes. He told me of the plants he got, mine are performing the best – he said they grew faster than others. Of course, this made me very happy. And to see his excitement of having tomatoes on the plants is very rewarding. I guess he picked up the same gene from my father – the plant obsession gene. I told his Mom, enjoy this – he has a new passion. And now he and I have a huge topic to discuss at family gatherings. 🙂

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
http://www.WORKSHOPSCT.com
http://www.ContainerGardensCT.com
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com (this blog)

 

 

My Tomato Journey to Blossom End Rot

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I was going to write that my tomato journey started when I fell in love with the colorful art work depicted on seed packets, but that is not true.

It really started as a result of my father. He grew lots of tomato plants. He was known among our relatives of having the best, juiciest tomatoes in town. If you were invited to have some of his extra tomatoes, you were very lucky indeed.

My mother would have to can them into mason jars using her own method of boiling the jars in super-hot water and sealing them after stewing the tomatoes over the stove in a big pot. She didn’t put them through sieves to separate out seeds. She didn’t use a pressure cooker. She would can tomatoes for hours in a hot kitchen. But dang, were those the best darn canned mason jars of goodness ever.

So my tomato journey started with tasting them and witnessing my father growing them at my family home but it was sparked again in my own home when I saw seed packets at a flower show by Hudson Valley Seed Company. I immediately fell in love with how beautiful the seed packets were and are. They are designed by commissioned artists and each packet represents the goodness inside. It is an artistic depiction about the vegetable plant, seed, and variety. The art tells a story and this is what captivated me.

Basil by C Testa Copywrite_0001

This particular seed company also has cool varieties of tomatoes and other veggie plants, and herbs, etc. Not your typical “big boy” tomatoes as my dad would grow. They have purple tomatoes, tall tomatoes, and gigantic tomatoes, with cool names. It intrigued me. When I saw the Oxheart tomatoes, which grow 3 pound fruit, my eyes bugged out. Or the Mikado heirlooms with broad pink beef-stakes and exceptional flavor, I had to try them. The list goes on. It grew from there.

Blossom end rot by C Testa Copywrite_0002

Mikado heirloom with Thai basil

No one taught me how to ‘sow’ tomato seeds or how to plan them out based on frost dates and timing. Not even my Dad. He was the type of gardening Dad, at least from my perspective of the 6 kids in my family, who did not explain the whole tomato growing thing at all. He just had us tag along or maybe we just visited him to watch while he was gardening. And sometimes he would ask us to do a tiny chore, like carry this basket of tomatoes to the house, etc.

It was all learning by unaware observing back then, when I was a kid at my family home. Unaware because I don’t recall purposely observing, just observing. Just being there, and also of course, remembering the flavors of his amazing tomatoes at my family home when young and until the day I moved out in my 20’s. Now I enjoy my own tomatoes grown in pots.

My Dad had an old rickety greenhouse he built himself. It was on wheels. I don’t remember him pulling it around with a tractor, but I do remember stepping up into it to see what he was doing during the gardening seasons. I remember the smell of dirt in there too. And of course him doing whatever in there, tending to seedlings or whatever it was.

His hand built greenhouse was made with old foundation forms (if my memory is correct), and it had two sides with boxed like tables filled with dirt (or whatever he was using for soil mix) and tomato starts which he started from seed. Some of his own seed and his traditional favorites. There was one space down the middle to walk back and forth which only one person could walk at a time because it was narrow. It was small but sufficient for his seed starting needs. At least by my observation. At least that is how I remembered it.

They say that most people who garden or have a love of plants, it comes from the fact an elder or parent or someone showed gardening during childhood or at home, etc. It comes from example. Or growing up with it. Being surrounded by it. I believe it.

My Mom would complain though, saying in her French accent, “I’m tired of canning tomatoes.” There would always be a wicker lined basket on the entrance back steps filled with fresh tomatoes waiting to be canned, or to be picked up by someone invited by my Dad to come get some. And some were always stacked in baskets in the house, or in various buckets, right by where we hung our coats, near the kitchen entrance.

If you ever had this scenario, you know what that smells like. Fresh tomatoes sitting there just waiting to be devoured or “canned.” Piles and piles of them in baskets. An abundance of tomatoes. All fresh, ripened, and soft ready to eat. Some of them dripping from being at that almost over ripe stage.

At my home today, I grow only a few tomato plants. Maybe 8 plants or so each year in pots or fabric grow bags. At first, I think I bought tomato starts, but then I started sowing my own after having fun selecting seed packets from the Hudson Valley Seed company’s catalog or at the flower show where they have a vendor booth.

This is the funny part. When my Dad comes over, he doesn’t even go LOOK at my giant tomato plants growing on my driveway. Maybe he secretly thinks I’m nuts for even growing them in pots instead of in the ground. Whatever the reason, he doesn’t seem to be the bit curious of what types I have. This does not bother me. It makes me chuckle.

Heirloom Tom C Testa Copywrite_0002

Tomatoes on my Driveway

However, he has shown me his method of suckering the tomato plants, which I asked him about before, but I tend to not prune my plants even after he showed me how. I let them go wild and allow them to spread up and down and all around. This can lead to a messy look, but it is my style, and I like it. And I read somewhere, this method produces more tomatoes actually versus pruned plants, but pruned plants may have better air circulation and are tidy, etc.

Lining up tomato pots along my driveway’s wrought iron railing which runs east to west is one of the first places I grew my tomato plants. And that first year, wow, my tomato plants were absolutely amazing, and perfect. I don’t remember any major bug issues, the chipmunks didn’t take bites out of them, and my husband devoured many every time he got out of his car from work. Beginner’s luck perhaps.

Blossom end rot by C Testa Copywrite_0003

Now, fast forward to this year, after several seasons of growing tomato plants in pots. I guess this is probably several years of doing the driveway method of potting up tomato plants I grew myself from seed. Sometimes, I put them in pots on my side yard, some on the deck, and sometimes on the driveway or in-front of the garage. And each year, I have encountered a wild animal issue or a small bug problem, all easily fixed, but this year, my journey challenged me once more. This year, well, some of my plants got the dreaded blossom-end-rot. Nooooo!

But not all of them got this ailment. No chipmunks though this year (figures!), but they were there last year taking bites of my gorgeous ready to pick tomatoes. It is always something. It is like gardening will never ever cease to challenge you and make you require patience.

Back to the dreaded blossom-end-rot. Ugh. When I pulled those off with this symptom last week, which were green yet rotted at the bottoms, and threw them into my side yard like baseballs, I wanted to scream.

Yet, screaming is something you learn to suppress if you love plants and growing them. Because let me tell you, I could write a book on the, “I should scream moments!”

Suppression was learned through the challenges of gardening. In fact, suppressing your anger and frustration becomes an art form when dealing with plant challenges every year.

But the good part, the part that makes one continue trying, is passion and many, many successes too. There are lots of good stories to counter the bad. However, the bad stories are frustrating because of the time and effort involved, especially when it comes to growing tomatoes.

Of course, starting tomato plants requires starting the seed indoors. And you must plan ahead at least six to eight weeks before they will be placed outdoors to harden them off. Some of the interesting tomato varieties I chose require ten weeks ahead. It takes time. Lots of time before you start reaping the rewards of ripened fruits in the summer months. You sometimes start in March. Now it is July!

Seedlings early in the growing process are moved into larger pots. My typical preferred larger pot size is a 5” square. From then, they are nurtured, inspected, watered, and watched for weeks before they are moved outdoors after all danger of frost has past.

Then you have to eventually plant them appropriately, selecting a full sun location with at least six to eight hours of sun every day, with the correct potting mixes, compost, and large enough pots or fabric grow bags, as is in my case. And most importantly, watering correctly, evenly and adding fertilizer as needed at the right time.

All was growing and going splendidly, until one day recently, looking UP at my jungle of tomato plants on the deck from ground level, I saw a black spot on the bottom of a hanging tomato fruit. I thought, “Are my eyes playing tricks on me? Should I get my binoculars?” It is such a jungle up there so I was not sure I would be able to see it from the other side up above on my deck thru the many full stems of the plants all lined up together. Remember, I did not prune so some of the fruit growing were hidden.

Blossom end rot by C Testa Copywrite_0001

By it was not my poor eye vision! Oh, Please God, No! Not blossom-end-rot, but it was. Ugh. I saw it, I knew it, and now I had to acknowledge it – it happened to me, to the tomatoes I’ve been dying to bite into after all this time from starting seed to this very day.

Others told me within the same week, they had blossom-end-rot on some of their tomatoes too. I thought oh well, maybe they didn’t water evenly, maybe they didn’t use the right soil mix, maybe it was just bad luck, but then I saw it…here, on mine.

The first sign of it was a sunken, brownish hard area starting at the blossom end of the fruit. It was a dry brown area but then turns a bit softer black, and it grows and spreads up, like an ugly zit you remembered from high school, or I hate to say it, a very bad black toe nail fungus. It is THAT ugly. The ones on my plant on the driveway started with a black blotch but the ones on my deck started with a dry brown blotch. Ugh, either way, it is a blotch I didn’t want to see. And like toe fungus, is a challenge to treat.

Insert a “Big Sigh” sound here. And then, I remembered my professor in college talking about it – and I distinctly remember him saying, it is from lack of the ability of the plant to take up calcium due to watering inconsistencies. And that calcium may be in the soil but the water uptake is an issue – it getting to the fruit while it is developing.

Hmm, the condition is caused by “poor calcium uptake” is what I read as well, when I discovered it this year, and started reading various books I have on hand about tomatoe growing (one way I learn). And it read, it has to do with an “UNEVEN supply of water.” It may be from under-watering or over-watering.

Maybe I got too “water happy this year?” I was kind of watering a lot – maybe too much. What was I thinking? Or was it this crazy weather? I want to blame the weather too. We did have some weird spurts of hot weather, and to me it seemed the fruit grew fast, really fast – then the blossom-end-rot showed up. Hmmm??? It is probably all combined factors.

Oh well. Deep breaths: suppress, suppress that anger. Serenity now, I thought. Don’t try to beat yourself up. You are not a gardening God. You are only human. That is how gardening keeps you “grounded.” Tee-hee. And keeps you learning and trying.

They will tell you to mulch plants and to deeply and evenly water in some reference tomato gardening books. Then in another reference book, the next sentence in the solution section was…here it comes…it starts with the words…“NEXT SEASON, ensure the soil is fertile, with adequate calcium levels, and plant blossom-end-rot resistant cultivars.”

NEXT season!? Ack! I want my tomatoes to be perfect THIS season.

Also, recommended is taking off the bad tomatoes and tossing them. However, I also read you could end up with some non-affected fruit later, which did happen on one of my plants on the deck, at least it appears so for now, but the two tomato plants on my driveway – all of the fruit, which are all green and small, have it, the blossom-end-rot. Every single one. My poor heirloom Mikado, all of them have this dreaded issue.

Ho-Hum.

Bum, bum, bum.

Solving tomato problems requires that element of patience in gardening. I have yet to go buy a product to try to solve blossom-end-rot, and part of me doesn’t want to. I am almost at that point of giving up. But a switch in my mood could alter that easily. There are products to help from sprays to fertilizers with extra calcium.

And next time I see my Dad, I will ask him about how he dealt with blossom-end-rot, as I’m sure he had that challenge at some point in his tomato journey too. And maybe I will need to ask him if he has any extra tomatoes this year.

Update since this was posted:

Hi again all,

I decided to buy a product called “Rot-Stop” to help with my tomato blossom end rot issue. It comes in a ready to use spray bottle and helps correct the calcium deficiencies. It is applied to the foliage.

As I read the instructions on the spray bottle, a comment stood out: “This disorder often appears after a period of rapid growth followed by dry conditions, or in periods of heavy rain that caused calcium to leach from the soil.

What did I write in several paragraphs above? I wrote that I wanted to blame the weather. I had a sense of a rapid growth on my plants and then we had heat, and a heat wave. I noticed lots of tomatoes growing and all looked great, then we got hit by extreme heat.

Thus, in the end, this disordered is caused by a few things or a combination of factors: calcium deficiency (maybe in the soil or lack of movement due to inconsistent watering routines), aggravated by maybe too much nitrogen fertilizer (did you apply too much if you had this issue too on your tomatoes?), and dry conditions or even heavy rains leaching calcium.

That is the challenge with gardening, but we don’t want to give up that is for sure. The taste of fresh tomatoes is too worth it. Next year we may not have any of these issues at all and I never had this issue before. I say, don’t ever give up!

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT
860-977-9473
CT Zone 6b

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This was last year – to prevent chipmunks visiting!

My Mikado

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Sharing some progress of my tomato plants as of June 30, 2020.

This heirloom is one of my favorite tomato plants due to the large fruit size it produces and also the fruits’ wonderful flavor. They make the perfect slicers for sandwiches or when stacked with fresh mozzarella and basil.

This Mikado is located by my garage which faces east. It gets sun up until when the sun passes over the garage, then it is shaded by the garage itself. While it is best to give tomato plants as much sun as possible, all is going well so far for this particular location. They are producing fruit now.

Some good things about growing tomato plants in pots by my garage is for one, the pesky wild animals are leaving them alone. I am not sure if it is because the garage outdoor lights are above each tomato plant and the lights may signal to them that people may be near. Or maybe the cars do.

Animals have been an issue on my home property. Raccoons, or maybe it is a skunk, are digging into the soil of some of my other planters, but so far, they have not touched the tomato plants along the front of the garage. Thankful for that – hope I don’t jink myself!

I recently put pea gravel in some of the other “visited” pots which seems to help. I read that skunks will stick their nose into soil to smell for bugs, so maybe the gravel stops that from happening. Other things I have tried are hot pepper flakes or cayenne pepper sprinkled on the tops of the soil in the planters and pots. They seem to visit the same pots every evening. I even moved one huge pot because they were destroying my tropical plants. I wondered if they thought my canna lily plants are corn, because raccoons like to mess with corn plants apparently.

But back to the Mikado. It is growing very well with no insect issues, and around this time of year, I check it every time I water the plant, which is daily. As I water the soil (not the foliage!), I look around to see if there are any insects or damage to leaves, etc.

I think these plants along my garage will grow slower than those on my deck which are in full sun. I plan to share photos of all my tomato plants as they progress with fruit and I just can’t wait to taste the flavor when the first one is fully ripened on this Mikado.

Some people will ask me what I feed my plants when they see the large sizes of my plants in pots. Honestly, I have fed them a water soluble tomato fertilizer only once or twice so far. That is it. I do not have some secret magic fertilizer as some have accused me of, which I think is funny. Like they think I am not being totally honest, LOL!

If you water correctly, use quality potting mix from the start, and some compost, include some slow release fertilizer upon planting, a fertilizer feed “every 7-14 days” is not absolutely necessary in my book. I feel if the plant has plenty of flowers, is looking healthy, and strong, I don’t “over” fertilize. I also like to use big pots for stronger and larger root systems.

I plan to share photos of all my tomato plants going forward. Hope your’s are doing well also! Especially for those who have purchased seed packets or plants from me earlier this season.

Stay Safe,

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT
“I grow everything in pots, planters, containers!”
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

Time for Updates

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On this muggy and cloudy day, I briefly visited this site, my blog, and I realize I am overdue at making many updates. I need to revamp this site, and as my work schedule calms down, I will do so for you.

COVID-19 has disrupted many of our worlds. The timing and planning especially – who can plan with all these uncertainties, right? I had purchased a “calendar book” this past winter due to expecting a very busy season of offering container garden installs and my plant related workshops, but guess what?! That calendar book became useless – everything I had targeted week by week had suddenly changed, but many of what changed ended up being for the better for the gardening world.

I was extremely busy for months as people stayed at home and wanted to enhance their outdoor spaces, create their own C-19 Victory gardens, plant their herb kitchen gardens, and spruce up all at home with living beautiful plants. I am glad I was able to assist so many homeowners with their plant endeavors this season.

However, I realize so much has changed and I need to update this blog site very soon. I also need to update my photos. I have so many to share for inspiration and ideas in the container gardening world.

For one big change, no workshops are being offered by me at least up to the winter season. It remains to be seen if we will experience a 2nd wave of COVID-19 before I decide if any holiday workshops will take place. At this time, I do not plan to offer any fall workshops. So sorry, but please stay tuned or follow this blog for regular updates.

I promise to update you on all. In the meantime, please visit my Instagram feed under Container Crazy CT to see my daily plant related photos.

For my regular customers, please stay tuned to my updates and video on plant care. This week has been a hot one and it looks like it will remain hot for the rest of this week. Be sure to water your tomato plants deeply and regularly. And look out for the insects and plant related diseases which sometimes surface during this muggy, no air movement weather today.

Thank you for visiting.

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

How to Water Succulents in Pots with No Drain Holes

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My number 1 rule has always been to make sure your patio pots and container gardens for plants have sufficient drainage. There is no doubt plants perform much, much better when they have sufficient drainage holes in the base of their pots. Oxygen is necessary for plant roots to develop and perform better, and without drain holes, they lack it.

But, what about all those good and unique pot finds with no drain holes which you want to plant your succulents in? Vintage tea cups or a cool rock? Or when you are growing plants in hanging glass globes or in glass terrarium bowls? How do you deal with the fact these types of pots have no drain holes. If you cannot drill them, which is tricky with glass in particular, then the answer is to water very carefully.

Because succulents are able to withstand periods of drought, many people use them in pots without drain holes, but they do need watering at some point. In fact, succulents tend to like a good drenching, and then you should allow the soil in the pot to completely dry before you water again. The key is watering carefully when you have no drain holes.

Here is a list of tips I created to help you do this correctly, and again, carefully.

Tip No. 1 – Use Sphagnum Moss

Add some moss in glass hanging votives or glass globes over the soil mix. Fibered sphagnum moss absorbs up to twenty times its weight in water. The moisture will distribute naturally throughout the moss reaching the plants’ roots. The moss will dry over the course of the next few days on its own. By the way, sphagnum moss is not peat moss. And, Spanish moss is also different. Spanish moss is more for decorative uses and will remain soggy longer than sphagnum moss. I prefer the sphagnum moss because it dries between the moisture routines allowing the aeration also needed for the succulents delicate roots.

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Tip No. 2 – Tip the pot

After putting water in the soil mix (or moss), tip the pot to drain out any excess water, especially if you over did it. It may be okay to let the water sit there for a bit to be soaked up awhile, maybe an hour or so, but then be sure to drain out any excess water from the globe, pot, or whatever has no drain hole.

Tip No. 3 – Unplug the weep hole

Some pots, such as this hanging basket, has a reservoir area in the base. If the pot got overfilled with rain water during a heavy rain fall, pull the plug out, and allow the accumulated water to drain completely out. After, let the soil dry out and then re-insert the plug.

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Tip No. 4 – Add horticulture charcoal

Charcoal is very useful in terrarium glass bowls in particular. It improves drainage and absorbs harmful impurities. Add a thin layer in the foundation of the bowl along with soil and gravel in the base. It may be used in pots without drain holes too if desired. It will help the soil environment. Just be sure to follow the guidelines on the bag for the amount to use, and wear gloves since it is a messy dusty like component which will blacken your hands. Layer it appropriately as well for terrariums.

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Tip No. 5  – Less is more

Do not over water especially if your pot is in a dimly lit room inside your home or in the shade outdoors. This is a formula for inviting fungus gnats. The moisture will not dry out as quickly in shady spots, and thus, it invites critters. Critters like moisture. Be aware less is more in these situations, but again, your succulents shouldn’t be in non-lit areas in the first place. Most succulents prefer sun. If possible, if the soil is too wet from this situation, put it outdoors on nice days to give it natural air. Just be sure it is warm enough outside and not in too much sun IF the plants have been inside all winter. Select a partial sunny place and bring it back in later before evening.

Tip No. 6 – Use a porous pot

Terra-cotta and non-glazed clay pots allow air movement through the pot itself, so using a clay pots helps the non-drain holes situation versus using a glazed ceramic pot for example. Also, fabric or fiber pots with the natural ability to allow moisture to seep thru the pot base, are helpful to use. Such as coco fiber liners used in hanging baskets.

Tip No. 7 – Add perlite

Your potting mix may already have perlite, but adding more to the soil mix for pots with no drain holes will enhance the air spaces in the soil. Horticulture perlite is expanded volcanic glass. It increases aeration and drainage which will help the roots develop. This tip is good for plants which enjoy lots of drainage, such as succulents. Perlite is available by the bag in garden type stores.

Tip No. 8 – Create a drainage layer

Add gravel, stone chips, sterilized sea shells, or river pea gravel to the base of the pot before adding the soil and or moss. This is only recommended for pots without drain holes. Otherwise, if the pot does have drain holes, it can be counterproductive, creating blockage to drain holes or moving up the soil moisture above the gravel line. More on that in another blog post. It is a bit of a thing to explain to folks, which I have in my workshops on container gardening in the past.

Tip No. 9 – Allow drying time

Most plant roots need a balance of moisture and air. Be sure to allow your soil to dry between watering, especially important when you have no drain holes and are using succulent plants. Succulent plants should not be sitting in soggy soils for prolonged periods of time. And if the weather is right, put your container outdoors for some fresh air to give some air to the soil or moss, just be careful to not put it in harsh sun right away if they’ve been indoors all winter. And do not put out non-hardy soft succulents outdoors if it is still cold out – usually the right time to transition them outdoors is around Memorial Day, but if there is a suddenly warm day and sunshine, it doesn’t hurt to put them out for a few hours if the soil is really too wet.

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Tip No. 10 – Direct the water

Direct the water carefully to the soil mix (not to the top of the plants). Do not mist succulents. Point the tip of your watering-can spout to the soil, moss, or around the plant. I’ve been using a hair style water bottle lately for succulents in tight pots. The bottle is squeezable and squirts out a stream of water perfectly from a very narrow tip. If your succulents are a hardy type, and outdoors, it is okay if they get wet especially in the sun, but for soft non-hardy succulents, it is best to avoid getting the foliage wet. Also, bear in mind, newly planted succulents may have not expanded their fine roots into the soil much so the amount of water may depend on if you just planted a plug or baby succ, versus one that may be fuller and more mature.

Potting Mix

And finally, I think this goes without saying, use a quality potting mix or container mix for your plants in the pots. No native soil, no dirt please. In a future blog post, I will talk about my favorite potting mixes and how to find them. I have my favorite brands, and I actually listened to a webinar yesterday on new wood substrate type components for peat-based potting mixes. Again, more on that later. There is always more to learn.

Thank you for visiting.

Cathy Testa
Owner of Container Crazy CT
Broad Brook, CT
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

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Why Succulents in Hanging Baskets?

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Succulents continue to be wildly popular with plant enthusiasts and collectors. If you don’t have lots of room on your patio, a hanging basket filled with various succulent plants is a way to capitalize on your space. Succulents don’t require frequent soakings and may stay dry for weeks, making them very low maintenance plants, which is perfect in summer, when we are busy or going on vacation. Many people are surprised to learn that most succulents do produce flowers, at least once during the growing season. Hummingbirds love the flowers on the long arching stalks of Echeverias for example, just one of the many type of succulents out there to enjoy. It is a thrill to witness a hummingbird visit the delicate urn shaped blooms. In summary, succulents have lots to offer and are very long lasting plants, which means you may enjoy them outdoors in the warm season on your patio in a hanging basket, and then later, move them indoors for the winter season to enjoy on your windowsill or any indoor room with decent sunlight.

The Soil Mix

Succulents require good soil drainage to perform their best, and hanging baskets with coco-fiber or sphagnum moss liners are perfect to provide that drainage. The water will seep thru the natural liners and allow the soil to dry between watering or after a strong rainfall. And, as long as you plant them in a gritty potting mix, which is best for succulents, the plants will thrive. Gritty soil refers to adding more components to make the potting mix sufficiently porous (i.e., providing air space) with materials such as white horticulture perlite, which is added to improve drainage and aeration.

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Fresh Mix is Best

The garden industry provides many perfect potting soil or container soil mixes by the bag to use to plant your succulents in containers, hanging baskets, and patio pots. Potting mixes or container mixes are suitable, and cacti mixes or mixes specific for succulents, are even better. The key aspect to keep in mind when selecting your potting media is to purchase it fresh from a reliable source. Never ever use dirt (native soil) from the ground for your succulents in hanging baskets. Dirt is far too compact and will not provide the appropriate air spaces in the soil for the plants’ delicate fine roots, and it may harbor diseases, plus it will be too heavy to support a hanging basket on a hook. Look for brands such as ProMix, Fafard, or Hoffman. There are many mixes on the market to choose from and most of them have the component to achieve success.

Deep Pots Not Required

Hanging baskets are also well suited in regards to depth. Most succulents do not require super deep pots, and hanging baskets with an 8” diameter and about as deep are fine to use for many types of succulents. Even a minimum of 6″ deep is fine for many succulents. If they outgrow the hanging basket by the end of the summer season, they are easily transitioned to interior pots for keeping them indoors for winter, or propagated to make more succulents from a mother plant. They don’t mind being crowded in a basket for the short term of a summer season. Hanging baskets are a perfect choice and have so many benefits for succulents.

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Making Baby Succulents

As the succulent plants in your hanging baskets continue to grow and get bigger, you may create babies from your plants via propagation steps. One propagation method that is becoming practiced quite a bit by beginners is making baby succulents by propagating leaves removed from the succulent mother plant. There are many ways to perform propagation to achieve success but once you learn how, you will become a succulent baby making machine in no time. The endless benefits of succulents are to be enjoyed. Some succulent naturally produce off set side babies as well to keep the plant growing and to expand your succulent family collections.

Each Has Different Needs

Not all succulents are the created equal, however. Each has different needs. Did you know some succulents actually prefer less sun than others? And some succulents may burn in extreme sun situations, especially when moved out from the indoors to the outdoors for the first time. But, in general, they are very tolerant of being housed together in one hanging basket for the summer. Plants like Jades will play well with Echeveria or Sempervivums, for example. Many succulents are spillers or trailers, perfect to soften and hang from the edges of hanging baskets; think donkey or burro tail (two types of Sedums). And for plants with upright appeal, add a Kalanchoe paddle plant or Aloe in the center. The list of succulents is endless and in general, many share similar needs, such as limited watering, full sun to part sun, and minimal fertilizing needs. Succulents do well in full or partial sun outdoors, and when grown indoors, you should do your best to place them by the brightest windows in your home. If you see your succulents stretch, this may be a sign of not enough light, or they could be pushing out a bloom, which hardy succulents often do from their centers. In regards to temperature, it depends on the type of succulent! Hardy succulents tolerate the outdoors in winter but some should be protected. Soft succulents are not able to stay outdoors in winter. This is why the hanging baskets are handy, just bring them inside and set them on top of a pot for winter! Voila!

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Watering Conservatively

Watering is probably one of the most difficult tasks to master when it comes to training plant beginners. Because most succulents conserve water in their leaves, they are tolerant of watering neglect but they will not survive if they are completely ignored forever. They have very delicate roots and if not watered at all, those roots will dry up and die. Watering is based on the climate, location, season, and the type of patio or interior pot. There are different methods of watering, but when they are in a hanging basket, especially one with a natural liner, you can’t really over water them either due to the drainage which will occur in hangers with natural liners. In addition, succulents appreciate a bit of air space below their pots, and hangers provide this function. Misting succulents is not recommended. They should be watered only when the soil is completely dry. You may drench the soil in the hanging basket and allow the excess water to drip out to drain. It is not good to let water sit on succulents leaves, especially in the hot sun, due to a water mark appearing on the center of the plant at times. Shaking the basket after watering helps, it will cause the water droplets to roll off the leaves and its center rosette. The misting routine, often used, is really not best for some succulents.

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Observations

I have found succulents have done very well in hanging baskets ever since I started offering it as a workshop topic a couple years ago. Due to the succulents various sizes, styles, shapes, and tolerance, people have been successful with keeping the plants going in their hangers after the workshops. In fact, many have shown photos of how well the plants grew and they were able to maintain them in their homes during the winter.

Spring is upon us and by early June, it will be time to enjoy your succulent plants outdoors. It is important to transition them carefully in late May, gradually, before putting them in full sun or partial sun. They also require warm temperatures and you should avoid putting them out too early.

Refreshing succulent hanging baskets is easy to do as well. Much of this I will be showing to my attendees via Facebook Live videos soon. For Connecticut, they are safe to go out around the same time you would plant your tomato seedlings/starter plants, around Memorial Day. Now may be a good time to take a look at your succulents and consider refreshing them for the outdoor season.

Workshop Cancellation

My goal was to offer a workshop in May 2020 again on Succulent Hanging Baskets but this was cancelled due to COVID-19. Stay tuned for updates on what is next, which only time will tell (see my Services List below). I have plenty of pretty colorful hangers in stock now however. Guess that means, time for me to get planting. All of the above is explained in detail at my workshops, but alas, I think the workshop scene is on hold for my offerings in the coming months. I will be, however, refreshing my succulent hanging baskets in stock and offering them for sale. Lately, I’ve been offering porch pick-ups for folks in my area during this difficult time (for seeds and houseplants or succulents). It brings me great pleasure to know it has been helpful to cheer up their environment with plants and other things, like seeds for sale or houseplants. I guess succulent baskets may be added to my services list. I will see how the rest of this month goes!

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
Owner of Container Crazy CT
860-977-9473
Container Crazy CT
Broad Brook, CT
containercathy@gmail.com

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Market cancelled but I’m still here!

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Hi everyone,

The Ellington Farmer’s Market had to cancel tomorrow’s last winter market, where I was scheduled to speak, but hey – I’m still here! If you have a need for seeds, seed kits, fresh houseplants, or succulents, please reach out. I am located in Broad Brook, CT and we could arrange for a meet up if local or near my town.

If interested, lists of what is available are provided to you via email, etc.

In the meantime, please stay healthy and calm. Remember, plants calm the soul! Consider sprucing up your home with some air purifiers, grow some of you own seedlings now, and get your TP!

And also – a big thank you for all who attended last night’s Purse and Plant Party – it was really fun. Enjoy your new plants and purses.

I hope, truly, that everyone stays safe and sound.

Thank you – Cathy Testa
860-977-9473 (texts welcome)
containercathy@gmail.com