Soft and fresh tender lettuce leaves were something I cherished from my father’s garden when I lived at home growing up. My mother made a homemade dressing with light white cream and some fresh chopped up dark green chives. She would toss the freshly picked and cleaned lettuce leaves with her easy made dressing and it was the most refreshing, light, and airy salad bowl you could eat. I think I most enjoyed the tenderness of the leaves. Soft and fresh, full of flavor, and nutritious. The slightly oniony taste of her dressing from the chives would cling and drip from the leaves as I happily munched a bowl of the greens. No need to add anything else, always delicious.
One of the easiest seeds to grow
Lettuce mixes are one of the easiest seeds to sow and grow. However, they do not perform well when it is super hot outdoors in the middle of summer, so you may pause during that time, but they are perfect to grow in the cooler times of the season, starting in early spring and again in the fall during the cooler weather. It won’t be long before I start sowing some directly in my pots and watch them grow.
Sow directly in window boxes
Usually I sow lettuce mixes or greens in smaller sized window baskets, hanging baskets, or in bowl shaped containers. Once they start growing a bit, I will sometimes set the container outdoors on sunny days to get fresh air and wonderful sunlight. They tolerate the cold, as long as you don’t leave them out wet and it is freezing outdoors. If the leaves are wet and the temperatures are below freezing, they may get damaged. Otherwise, they are fine in the cooler temperatures of early spring.
I usually set them outside on a small deck table and there have been times I did this when there was still snow on the ground. Then I will take the container back indoors overnight usually. However, in early spring, they may be left outdoors if desired. When I’ve done this, I definitely noticed the lettuce leaves perked up and enjoyed the cooler weather. Think of it like how you enjoy the crunch of a cool salad from the refrigerator. The cold temperatures do not harm the plants as it grows.
Cool season vegetable
Cool season vegetables, which lettuce is one of them, are sown and grown in the spring and fall. They may also continue to grow in summer but if it gets super hot, they may taste bitter. In fact, I think I remember some bitter tasting lettuce moments from my father’s lettuce at times in the summer. But we always were given the option to keep eating them if we wanted to, and that was a good thing. However, the preferred taste was during the cooler seasons.
If you are new to sowing seeds and want something that is easy, give lettuce mixes a try. You literally can scatter the tiny seeds over the top of your seedling or potting mix and cover them with a light amount of soil mix, and then watch them grow. As seen above, the tiny seedlings were starting to appear and because my greenhouse is more on the cooler side, there was no need for heating mats or a very warm spot to get them going, like you need with other types of warm season plants. Starting them indoors in my greenhouse is something I’ve done often and then, as noted above, moved outdoors as the spring temperatures started to go more from winter to spring. I harvest the lettuce leaves at a baby stage or when they get larger to make a fresh salad. Either is fine and they will continue to grow.
This year, I ordered more of the seed packets of a salad lettuce mix and I am offering the packets for sale as well as my kits. If you decided on the lettuce mix choice, I recommend you also try to pick up some window pots or bowl shaped pots to grow the seeds in as it is so easy compared to transplanting. Just make sure the container you select has drainage holes or that you will drill them into the base. If reusing a pot from last year, be sure to wash it thoroughly as noted in my prior blog posts before sowing any seeds in it. But pretty much, any container of at least 6-12 inches deep is recommended.
The mixes are pretty too
I also find lettuce mixes to be very pretty and ornamental in containers and patio pots. The seed packets I have available this season has several varieties of greens and it creates a mix of flavors, textures, and colors. Some greens may be lightly sautéed in pan if desired. Tossing them with some garlic is yummy. Eating lettuce mixes or greens when they are young and tender is the best time. In fact, plain old lettuce or head lettuce is not that tasty, it is the green leafy plants which add the flavor and texture. As you can see in the photo above of a mix I had a couple years back, the lettuce is speckled with dark plum tones. I love the look of that lettuce!
May sow direct in the gardens too
Lettuce mixes also may be sown in succession (repeatedly) and you get plenty of seed in one packet – up to 500 seeds! So if you are careful with sprinkling just the right amount directly into your containers, you may repeat the seed sowing process or sow many containers at a time. And of course, you may directly sow lettuce seeds into raised beds or the gardens of the ground. Shown above is a lettuce mix my friend, Dianne, grew last year. Just look at the deep merlot color of the lettuce sown directly in her raised bed. Wow, impressive. Every time I’ve directly sown seeds in containers, the seeds sprout and start growing and fill the container quite easily. It will be time in just a few weeks, early March, to start this up and I am looking forward to doing so. If you prefer sowing into gardens, you may start the seeds indoors and transplant as soon as the ground in your garden is workable. If there is a freeze after it sprouts, you protect them with a covering. It is best to avoid sowing midsummer as the seed does not germinate well in the hottest parts of the season, and again the flavor is better in cooler seasons.
Seed packets for sale
As noted above, I have seed packets available of a greens lettuce leafy mix and will provide details to anyone interested. The packets may be purchased individually or with a seed sowing kit. I am offering free delivery of the kits in my area of Broad Brook, CT for the next couple weeks. If you are not local, you may request a mailing of the seed packet with a mailing fee applied. But sooner or later, the supplies will run out so I recommend doing so soon. Plus, I will be busy in March sowing and growing my seeds too. And, oh by the way, I invite purchasers to my private Facebook page where I will sow all the seeds I offer and this helps beginners as well. You will see how to sow them and get growing tips all season. Hope you will join me this season. All the details about the kits are on my site called, www.WorkshopsCT.com.
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One of the rewards of taking so many photos of my plants is being able to look back on them when I am getting ready to write another blog post. I was thinking about showing some photos of what my tomato seedlings looked like in various stages and in different seedling trays or pots.
These two tomato plants certainly look healthy. They are in 5″ square plastic black pots. I actually got the pots many years ago and they held perennials at the time, but I kept them because I liked the size and shape. I clean them with mild soapy water every year and store them to reuse. It is important to wash any re-used pots as they may create disease problems the following year. Often recommended is sterilizing them by soaking the pots and/or trays in a 10 percent solution of household bleach and water. Soak them for a few hours, rinse well, and let air dry. I do this the prior year because washing pots is easier when warm outdoors than in winter when we start seeds in March. The 5″ square pots are the perfect size for growing my baby seedlings “after I prick the plants out of their prior seedling trays” when I transplant them from the seedling flat trays into these square pots. Eventually, when they reach a decent size as shown above in the 5″ square pots, I will move them up into one-gallon pots after they’ve been growing in these 5″ square pots for a while if necessary.
Bumble Bee Cherry
By the way, the Bumble Bee Mix Cherry tomato is a favorite. It has multi-colored fruit (striped) and are sweet flavored. I start them early indoors in seedling trays and keep them growing till they are ready to harden off. I have seed packets available of this type again this year. The two plants shown above are the bumble bee type.
In this photo, I’m holding one of those 5″ square pots and was placing them outdoors for a few hours daily around mid-May (after any chances of frost) on non-windy days, under some shade to protect the new tender leaves. When moving a bunch of tomato seedlings or tomato starts (some people call them that) from the greenhouse to the outdoors daily is when I get plenty of exercise going back and forth. It should be into an area protected outdoors, for a few hours every day, until they may be permanently planted in container gardens, patio pots, fabric grow bags, or gardens of the ground later in May.
The above photo show them before they get moved into the 5″ square pots. I like using the type of trays shown above as my seedling trays. Each cell is about 3-3.5″ diameter and deep. I tend to do one seed per cell in these because I like giving each plant it’s own undisturbed growing space but you may sow more seeds per each cell (to save on soil), and then prick them out carefully to another pot when they get larger to un-crowd them. Many sources will say to prick out seedlings (whether it is one or more seeds grown per cell) at the sign of the first set of true leaves. I don’t always move them out (prick them out) that soon. I sometimes wait until the plant seems sturdier and has maybe 2-3 sets of the true leaves. The true leaves are the ones shaped like a tomato leaf, where if you look closely you can see the seed leaf below those (shaped more oval) in the above photo. The seed leaf, called a Cotyledon, is the food storage structure of a seed and it is the first leaf to appear above the soil when the seed germinates. It will feed the plant initially, then the true leaves form. Once your seeds have germinated and are starting to grow, you must give them plenty of light and you may also remove them from a plant heating mat if you used one below the trays.
Fox Cherry tomato
By the way, it is Fox Cherry Tomato growing in the photo above. Another favorite variety I have grown the past couple years. It produces cherry tomatoes that are rather large, all orange and red color, and great on skewers on the grill. I didn’t get new seed of this type this year but still have some packets from last season, so I’ll probably grow a couple rows of these to offer.
You can see here I was holding a cell that had two plants in it from seed. You may prick out one by very carefully removing it from the soil with the soil around the roots intact as much as possible. I sometimes use a tiny bamboo skewer as a tool. I will insert the bamboo stick (like a skewer or tooth pick size) under the root area (placing it in the soil and under, going to the bottom of the soil to release it), and push it up, rather than “tugging” on it from the stem, which could damage the delicate tiny seedling. You have to handle them gently at this stage when you prick them out of any growing trays to move them into a bigger pot, otherwise, you will damage them. When I move the baby seedlings into larger pots (1-gallon at times if they get really large), I will use a coarser potting mix and add some slow-release fertilizer prills, but usually only for those tomato plants which are large enough for a one-gallon pot and that is usually when we are closer to hardening off the plant outdoors after frost.
These 3.5″ cell trays shown above are a type I got a couple years ago and I really like them because the bottom holding tray is thick and sturdy. Each tray holds 32 plants (cells). This photo was actually from a seed starting session I held a couple seasons ago. Each person sowed a full tray and we used various types of seedling mixes. I wrote about our experiences with that in a prior blog post. When we fill them with seedling mix, it is to about 1/4″ from the top and sometimes I will gently tap the little pot on the table just to level the soil but you should not press down the potting mix as this would reduce the fluffy-ness and air to it and also would compact it. We use a small bamboo skewer to make a tiny pin-hole where the seed is placed. Some people will fill these cells to capacity with many seeds, but as indicated above, I usually do the one seed per cell.
In my session that year, I handed out the seeds in these tiny paper like cups. You can see here the seeds of Oxheart tomatoes (which I wrote about in my prior post). The Upstate Oxheart tomatoes grow huge (giant) tomatoes! Sometimes we used tweezers to pick up one single seed to insert into the soil where we made a tiny divot hole in the seedling mix using the skewer. It is amazing that tiny seeds, made up of a seed coat (technically called a Testa), Endosperm, which is food storage tissue in the seed. Then there is a layer called the Aleurone layer, and a radicle which is an embryonic root. The root gets pushed into the soil first when the seed germinates and the top part of the plant, the Epicotyl, is the portion of the embryonic stem attached to the cotyledon(s) I mentioned above. The cotyledon (a seed leaf) is the food storage structure in the seeds and the very first leaves to appear after it germinates from the soil. All from a tiny single seed, which eventually grows into an amazing plant.
One year, I came across these tall Styrofoam cups and thought I will use them to move them up from the 3.5″ cell trays but later, I decided I didn’t really care for these cups. First, they are not biodegradable, although cheap to find. And secondly, they toppled over easily, but they were doable. I used a nail to poke a bunch of drain holes in the bottom before pricking out a baby seedling to move into these Styrofoam white cups. Also, the shape being round doesn’t save shelf space as do the square 5″ pots shown behind them. The square pots are a great way to capitalize on space on the shelves in my greenhouse.
Sometimes the plants grow rather tall and large before it is warm enough outdoors to plant them, and I will use either brand new one-gallon sized plastic pots typical in the nursery industry, or I’ll reuse a pot from a plant, always being sure they are thoroughly cleaned. And they must have drain holes. Here in these Monrovia pots are my nice looking tomato plants. I believe these were the Oxheart tomatoes which I mentioned in my prior pot have droopy leaves, which is normal for this variety of plant and its habit.
As you can see, there are a few phases of seedlings. First is the smaller 3.5″ cells, then up to a 5″ square or maybe the Styrofoam cup idea, and then if the plant gets rather large, it is repotted again into a 1-gallon pot. This has been my typical process. So, you should bear in mind, the trays, seedling mix, and time it takes to do all and to have a space with sufficient sunlight or do all with grow lights indoors in your home. Seedlings are very much like tending to little babies requiring attention and care along the way. You can’t leave them totally unattended because you must monitor their growth and progress. You need to ensure they have appropriate moisture and air along the way. Sometimes you can place a very small fan to create a gentle breeze around the seedlings when they are larger (5″ pot size stage of pot or above, 1 gallon pot size) as this helps them to grow stronger and the air circulation reduces any chances of rot problems.
I would recommend the seedling heat mats. They gently warm up the potting media or seedling mix you used while you await for the seeds to emerge. The heat mats last a few years and are easy to store and clean up each season. I leave them on the whole time until the seeds emerge and look sturdy, then the trays get moved to other shelves in my greenhouse to continue growing. They are not kept on the seedling heat mats after they are growing well.
Someone on a farm recommended this white seedling tray to me about 4 years ago. I do like them very much, the shape of the cells are v-shaped and it grows a strong root system, but I can no longer find the place where I had ordered them online, but I have seen them listed as hydroponic trays (they float). However, it seems the price of these are much higher now. It is a great long lasting tray, light weight, and easy to clean. The seeds grow well in these, but I’m not sure if I would pay the price for them now. In this photo above, you can clearly see the “cotyledons”, the seed leaf which is first to appear.
Here’s another clear photo of some plants in the 5″ squares growing along well. I put them on a white chair that day. I’m always taking photos – it is an addiction, a true problem, LOL. There is a tomato on the bottom left and some hot pepper plants.
This is a good photo above because it gives you an idea of the size of the 3.5″ cell pots (left) which I use when I sow the seeds initially, and then the 5″ square (right pot) which I use to move the seedling up into when the baby seedlings are a good size. This has a New Yorker tomato plant in it. I’m always trying out new varieties of tomatoes. It is part of the fun of tasting flavors later!
Nothing beats that wonderful feeling when you see the seed has sprouted up from the soil! Here is the tiny seed leaves which emerges first. As soon as I see these, all the seedlings are carefully monitored to make sure the soil stays slightly moist. If you have a humidity cover over your seeds or over your seed trays, it should be removed at this stage. If it condensates too much, it will promote rotting of the very tiny delicate stems. Don’t over water either, if soaking wet all the time, this may lead to rot.
Other things you need to consider
You may use practically anything for containers to sow and grow your seeds. Anything with drain holes that will hold the seedling mix will due, however, be sure all is clean if reusing anything. The seed sowing trays (or flats) shown above are my favorite, specifically the black plastic tray with 3.5″ cells/pots, because they are sturdy, pathogen free, easy to place on shelves, and these plastic cell pots keep the soil evenly moist. It is important to pick the right sized flats because you don’t want to put a seed in too deep of a pot (cell) or in one too larger either. Each type of seed has a recommended cell size to be enhance germination. Anything from 2″-3″-4″ is usually a good average size to use for tomato and pepper seeds.
While waiting for the seeds to germinate, you need to always consider having the correct temperature (70-75 degrees F), and to keep the potting mixed used warm, a heat mat for plants/sowing gently does so – and I think the mats are worth the investment. Then you should watch the seedling mix to make sure it maintains moisture and humidity. You need to check on your trays daily. A clear cover over the seedling trays or flats helps with the humidity. All must be balanced and not stay or get soaking wet or totally bone dry. You can’t just forget about them. For example, if you decide to leave for a few days, they will dry out so you need to ask a friend or family member to monitor them. Once they germinate, light is a critical factor. Using fluorescent lights or growing them in a greenhouse is best. A greenhouse is not a typical thing for gardeners to have so investing in a grow light is a good idea if you want to improve your strength of the seedlings. However, I’ve seen it done by sunny windows inside the home and it can work. And one last thought, do not forget to put the labels in the trays or cells. You will totally forget. Add a date to the label on the backside of the label, which will help you determine when you sowed them should you not see them come up later. Most packets will indicate how many days till they germinate. If they don’t come up, you can at least look at when you sowed them. Some seeds are a little slow to germinate, like hot peppers. Tomatoes tend to germinate faster.
It is Valentine’s Day weekend, so I thought it is appropriate to share information about how I grew big tomatoes in a big pot.
Upstate Oxheart Tomatoes
The reason I picked this seed a couple years ago to add to my growing list is just because I thought it would be super cool to grow giant tomatoes, and this variety did not disappoint. The tomato fruits were definitely stunners. Each tomato weighed between 2.5-3 lbs. and they were as big as grapefruit or bigger. The shape of the tomato is heart shaped. It is really fascinating when you cut one in half. I couldn’t get over how it truly looks like a heart. Another cool factor, they are nearly seedless. So if you like to cook with tomatoes and don’t want to bother removing the seeds from your sauces, this is the one.
When I saw the first flower on this plant, I thought, “Wow, these are big flowers and pretty.” I guess that was the first sign to me that the plant’s fruit would grow as promised and be big, really big. In addition to the flowers, I noticed the leaves seemed to droop a bit, and at first, I was worried something was wrong with the plants, but upon reading more, this habit, where it almost looks like the leaves are wilting downwards, was perfectly normal for this plant.
This plant is indeterminate. It will require staking. In fact, it can grow rather tall, up to 18″ high or even reach 10 feet. I don’t think mine was as tall as 10 feet! But it did grow rather large and I grew a single plant in a huge black pot. Here you can see it in the pot.
You do not have to get a pot this big, which it is about 3-4 feet tall and probably 2 feet or more in diameter, because I have grown these in 20 gallon fabric grow bags as well. You just need to bear in mind that it will require support because the stems will continue to grow and reach out. Additionally, the bigger the pot, the more growing power you give it.
Surrounded with wire
What I did with this one above was completely surround the pot with wire. The first year, I used chicken wire but the second year, I purchased a sturdier hard wire. It worked at keeping any animals away but it was tricky for me to reach down into the pot to get the tomatoes. Sometimes, I would get a small step ladder and carefully reach down to grab one as it ripened to a rosy color.
This variety of tomato is ready to pick when it is a rosy color. Also, the fruits are soft to the touch. I am not sure how to describe the flavor, other than delicious. It is a delicate but powerful flavor, we really like eating these. My husband, Steve, described it like eating a steak. The meat of it is full, dense, and heavy. In fact, the fruits feel heavy when you pick them. They weigh up to 3 lbs! Maybe even more if you used a technique to try to grow them even larger, but it really starts with using seeds of plants which naturally grow a really big tomato, and this is one type which does.
The first year, I started the seeds at the 10 week timing prior to our last spring frost. This is early March, but I felt like the plants were getting rather large when it was almost time to harden them off (put them outdoors to acclimate before permanently planting them into the pots outdoors), so this year, when I grow some of these, I am going to wait till the 6 week mark.
Normal for leaves to droop
Another thing I noticed about the habit of this variety, is the leaves droop down. They almost look like they are wilting, and at first, that concerned me. I was worried and did some more research discovering this was perfectly normal for this plant. When it grows larger outdoors, it has a messy hair look (for lack of better wording) but there is no need to panic. It will grow fruit just fine.
The 2nd year I grew some of these, I decided to take bamboo stakes and push them into the top of the big black pot. Then I got some hardwire fencing material and wrapped it around. The last step was taking zip ties and attaching them to the bamboo stakes to secure all. This worked. It kept any critters away but it was tricky to reach down to grab the fruit. Sometimes I used a small step ladder to reach down into the plant to get the fruit. It was worth it.
This variety, Upstate Oxheart, is nearly seedless. This is good if you wish to not have seeds in your sauces, but it is important to know, because the fruit is nearly seedless, you get a smaller amount of seeds in the packet, so each seed sown and grown is precious. When you cut the fruit open, you can see there is very little seed, and it does in fact look like the inside of a heart! Amazing!
When I would go check on the plant, I loved seeing the big tomato fruits starting to grow. Many of them would look perfect with no blemishes. Even though they got large, they rarely cracked. The plants start to produce fruit about 84 days from the time you transplant it into your pot or gardens.
Sometimes when I would reach in to take a photo, I would put my hand near the tomato so you could see how big it was getting, and the texture of it felt heavy and firm. As it ripes, as noted above, it starts to feel a little soft to the touch, like if you push slightly on it – it feels soft. When it turns a rosy color, it is ready. These also ripen very easily on the counter – which I discovered when I grew them on my deck in fabric grow bags last year. Because those were not wrapped in wire, a squirrel had discovered them, so I picked them before they got rosy and it was fine on the counter to ripen.
Oh another thing, which I just remembered, was I usually used pruner to cut them from the stem because they did not tug away easily. I didn’t want to damage them so pruners were used to cut the stem.
To give you an idea of the size, I put a wine opener on top of four slices. Just looking at these makes my mouth water. Another way I like to eat them, other than just taking a fork and knife and taking bites, is tossing them with pasta, basil, chopped garlic, olive oil and a little amount of balsamic vinegar (like a capful). Yumm.
I typically will mix all in a bowl first without the pasta and let it sit on the counter to blend the flavors. Then when the pasta is ready and hot, add that in. So easy, oh and let’s not forget the fresh parmesan cheese!
The fruit may get a crack or two on the top from the weight, but overall, I felt like these were blemish free and smooth skinned. The seeds are started indoors 6-10 weeks prior to our last spring frost. I did not order more seed of this variety this year because I want to try some other heirlooms and beefsteak sized tomatoes, but I still have seed left and probably will grow a limited amount of the Upstate Oxhearts.
Now, on to the How-To’s.
Get the seed! Upstate Oxheart Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) gets a thumbs up in my gardening book. If you are local and want seed from me, see my contact information below. I sell the packets and can mail it to you or deliver if local. But if you want a big tomato, the first step is get the seed.
Get a big pot or a large fabric grow bag. Set it up in the sunniest place outdoors when it is time to move the seedlings (transplants) outdoors. I had the big black pot shown above in a very very sunny area, so sunny, it doesn’t get much shade at all, but it did require watering, and I would drag my garden hose there and hang it over the top of the wire, and let it run for a bit to water it.
Fill the pot with the appropriate potting mix, compost, some fertilizer, and you are good to go. Be sure when you plant it to surround it with support somehow right away, so as it grows, it will have the support/cage required to hold up those big fruits. Believe me, it is so fun to point them out. “Hey, come check out my giant tomato!” When I would show friends, they would gasp when they saw them. Sometimes they would ask me – what did you feed that plant?!
It is not the feeding, it was the variety and care to start with. Feeding only enhances an already really large tomato, so stunning, it will make your own heart beat!
Happy Valentine’s Day Everyone!
Cathy Testa email@example.com 860-977-9473
See my site: WorkshopsCT.com for Seed Sowing Kits!
When we (my husband, Steve, and I) redid our kitchen, many years ago, I insisted on having a kitchen window above the sink area because knew I wanted to put some plants in there.
OUR KITCHEN GARDEN WINDOW
Our kitchen garden window faces south and sticks out and is about 3 feet by 2 feet, and it has a long shelf in the middle, so I can put plants on the shelf above or below at the counter sink height. The window gets colder in the winter because it is sticking out and experiences the cold air around it. In the summer, however, it gets very warm at times, but I can vent it by cranking open the side window panels. But in either scenario, the kitchen window was useful for not only putting some smaller winter plants in there, but to put some herbs in there for use in my cooking. The kitchen window type looks like the ones on this Pinterest page: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/460070918175924579/
This little area, if you happen to have a similar kitchen window over your sink in your home, is a decent place to grow some kitchen herbs. But some herbs are easier to grow than others, especially if you are a beginner not knowing where to start.
In my opinion, parsley and salad mixes are two easy seeds to give a try. Salad mixes are not herbs, but I wanted to mention them because many leafy salad mixes are easy to grow from seed and put in a smaller container in the kitchen window, and so is parsley. If you are a beginner, grab some seed of these now (or buy from me) and then start your venture of growing herbs for the first time in your kitchen (and from seed)!
Other herbs you may see listed as easy to grow from seed in the kitchen are basil, chives, and mint.
Basils (needs warmth!)
I agree on the basil, it is easy to sow and grow EXCEPT it has to be warm. They will not do well if your kitchen window (like mine that sticks out) when it is cooler – which is the case right now in winter. So basils, I would not recommend in a cool spot during the winter months. You may start basil in seedling trays if you wish and if you have a warm, sunny spot in your home. In the summer months, you can continuously sow the seed all summer for a steady ongoing supply, but they are very sensitive to cold temperatures.
In the summer months, a kitchen garden window with enough sunlight is a great place to grow your basils in pots if you wanted. There is also a type of basil I tried last season, sacred basil, which is primarily used in teas. I have seed available too if nearby and interested. What I liked about the sacred basil is it grew fast and plentiful in my patio pots and it bloomed all summer. The bees adored it. In fact, I rather enjoyed it as a decorative plant maybe more so than harvesting it as a tea.
The only thing to consider if you want to try basil from seed to have in your kitchen window, it is best if you find a warm location in your home to start them in a seedling tray (somewhere warmer), otherwise they will suffer the kitchen window in the winter months. The types of basil I have grown from seed are Thai, Genovese Basil (big leaves great for pesto and other things!), and Sacred basil.
We all love basil for kitchen gardening, and you may start seedling trays of it ahead indoors and transplant it to patio pots in the summer months. I have done this with several types of basils. Usually I start them by seed in April (4 weeks before our last frost date) to transplant into pots or move outdoors in late May. I’m not trying to discourage growing basil from seed cause it is not that difficult to do but it does need warmth.
Basil is definitely a kitchen desire however, we all love basils, at least I do and I must have it for adding to fresh tomatoes. It is so easy to use. Just chop it up, add it to warm pasta with fresh cut up tomatoes, no cooking and toss – add some cheese, and wow, yummy! But all I’m saying is basil likes warmth to grow well from seed.
Chives (New for me)
Chives is a new one for me to try and I have seed, so I will comment on that later this season. I love adding flavors to dishes, and chives has that oniony like flavor, so I picked it to test out this season. It also has an upright habit and I think will do fine in smaller pots, or in a kitchen window garden. However, some chives are considered aggressive in the outdoor gardens, which I will research. I’m only alerting you to this in the event you are considering growing herbs from seeds and transplanting them outdoors later in the summer. While some sites will say chives are easy to start, I haven’t tried them yet so I can not comment. I’ve also seen dill and cilantro as listed easy which I disagree on only because I’ve seen those suffer more as plants than other herbs. The type of seed I got for chives is a perennial herb, so it will come back the following season when grown in the ground. But you may start chives indoors and eat them like scallions. Even their purple round flowers are edible and look pretty in salads!
Mint (Cuttings are easy)
Mint – yes, easy to grow BUT mint is very aggressive in the ground, so if you decided you wanted to grow some mint in your kitchen window, you could try this one but if you wanted to transplant it to the garden outdoors, don’t do that – it spreads by the roots like wild fire. It is a okay outdoors in patio pots and containers where the roots are contained (and sitting on a surface which is not the ground, the roots will come out of the drain holes and go into the earth).
Mint is fun to grab snips of it when you are having fresh cocktails outdoors in the summer. Mint is not just for teas either. I like tossing it with fresh warm pasta right out of the strainer and adding fresh parmesan cheese and a bit of frozen bagged peas – sounds funny but it is yummy! And so simple. I don’t even cook the peas, I just make sure to toss it all when the pasta is very warm from the pot, and all the fresh flavors blend. If you like mint flavors, like I do. My cousin, Maryse, makes a watermelon feta salad with mint in the summer, it is just delicious!
However, I must admit, I have not started mint from seeds only because mint is so easy to find in garden centers AND it is very easy to start mint by taking cuttings. Just snip some stems, stick in water on your window sill, and roots will form. Then transplant to a pot in your kitchen garden and it grows easily. Then continue to harvest leaves, stems, or snips for your many recipes. I tend to put mint as a spiller plant (a plant which trails or spills from the edge of pots) in the outdoor container gardens in the summer months because they tend to grow fast and large (maybe too large for a kitchen garden). Everything from chocolate mint to orange mint. I have not grown mint from seeds yet.
Now let’s get back to the parsley and salad mixes, two easy ones.
Parsley (Can take cooler temps)
Parsley will germinate (begin to sprout/grow from seeds) a bit slower than other herbs, but it is easy to grow from the time it surfaces from the soil. It is also very easy to sow into a pot. Last year, I grew curly parsley (top left in the photo above). This year I’m growing the flat-leaf Italian parsley from seed, which will be a larger type of plant compared to curly parsley, but I love parsley – so each type to grow from seed is great for me.
I do find that flat leaf parsley is more flavorful, but I used the curly parsley all winter! Yes, I grew it from seed and hung baskets of it from my curtain rod in the area to the right of my kitchen sink. There is a slider door there and I hung it up and let them grow. I clipped from it so many times, I can’t count. I used it in pasta sauces (guess I like pasta), soups, sometimes fresh on a salad for a bit of parsley flavor and crunch, and to top other things. Kind of using the curly parsley as a garnish which you eat.
And parsley just continues to grow as you take snips from it. However, I did notice that it did not grow as vigorously as it did in my greenhouse. My greenhouse has lots of sun light on sunny days in the winter, so it thrived there, but when I moved it to my kitchen slider window, it slowed down a bit but still was plentiful. I will get to light in a minute, but overall what I am saying is parsley is a candidate if you are a beginner.
Parsley may be started 8 weeks before frost indoors which is around mid-March for my area of Connecticut, but because it doesn’t mind the cooler weather, I have sowed parsley all winter in my greenhouse and then I moved them to indoors to my south facing kitchen slider. If you have a warmer window in the home with sunlight, parsley is easier as a first type of herb to try from seed compared to basil. One thing to bear in mind with parsley seeds is they can be slow to germinate, but once they surface they grow fast.
Salad is not an herb but it is another kitchen item you could try that is simpler in my opinion to grow from seed. And salad mixes don’t mind the cooler temperatures in the kitchen window. But, in the summer, if the salad mix gets too hot – it bolts (shoots up flowers) and isn’t as tasty. Another great thing about salad mixes is you may cut from them from your pot or indoor window box and they will grow and grow continuously usually for a while, until you eat it all up. They like the cooler temps.
You can cut from it to have it at a baby leaf stage and add your herbs, such as the chives, basil, and parsley – and voila, you are a chef in the kitchen. Plus, taking snips of salad leaves off these right in your kitchen is kind of fun. And pretty. Salad mixes are typical various greens and look pretty together.
When I say salad mixes, I mean leafy salad (unlike romaine or something like head lettuce). It is also called Salad Greens, rather than lettuce, if you look for seed packets. I often sow salad mix seed in smaller window boxes. And usually start the seed I have in early March at the 10 week before frost date. Here’s a photo of a mix I did in a smaller window box. See how wonderful the mix of greens look! Think of this, March is around the corner. Only 2 weeks away from when I’m writing this (which today is 2/11/2021).
Self Watering Pots
My sister, Rosalie, contacted me after she saw how I had parsley baskets hanging from my curtain rod in my kitchen area. She is going to hang some pots in-front of her kitchen window this year. Her window does not stick out but it is right above her kitchen and gets sun. She is going to give it a try.
One recommendation I gave Rosalie was to use “self-watering” pots – those which have no hole in the bottom and are inserted into another holding pot, so it won’t drip down on her counters. A water reservoir sits below the pot to water the plants, but you have to be cautious of not overwatering because it does not drain out either. Wet roots are not good so anyhow, the reason I said self-watering is because they won’t drip.
However, for a kitchen area, these work well. And by the way, if you go get window boxes to try this, be sure it has a drain tray below it – otherwise when you water, it will drip out onto your surfaces. Most window boxes are designed with that little tray below it.
How to Start
Now, onto the how to’s.
To keep it simple, here are my recommendations:
(1) Determine if you have a warm enough spot in the home. If you have a kitchen window like mine, and it faces south or west, it is doable. If it faces north, you won’t get enough sun and usually north facing windows are colder and too cold. East is questionable as well. You only get morning sun in an east window. But the south and west windows typically get decent sunlight. You need sun to make your plants thrive. No sun, no plants.
(2) Get the easy seeds, and if you are local, I have seed packets and kits available and will guide you. Local is East Windsor, Connecticut or nearby towns, such as Ellington, South Windsor, Enfield, Windsor Locks, etc. I am offering free delivery to local residents in my town (East Windsor, CT) right now.
Another tip: Don’t buy too many seed packets – seeds for parsley are usually plentiful in a packet! A packet of parsley could fill many smaller pots (like 5-6″ in diameter) as an example. At least the seed packets I sell have lots of seeds, up to 200 hundred for parsley. And one more tip, parsley seeds do not last long, you should use them the first or second year tops.
(3) Get your containers, pots, smaller window boxes, or whatever you want to start your seeds in. Again, parsley can be directly sown (seeded) in the pot to start them. You don’t need to start them in seedling trays and transplant them into your pots. You can sow them directly in the pots or window boxes which I recommend get smaller sizes for the pots or window boxes. This is the case with the salad mix as well. It may be sown/seeded directly into the window box to start them from seeds indoors. Key thing is make sure whatever pot you have has some type of drainage holes. That is critical and self-watering pots drain to a pot as well but it drains into a reservoir. If other pots or window boxes don’t have holes, you will need to drill them. And of course, consider the weight of the pots – maybe you will hang them from macramé hangers and if they are heavy, they could be an issue. Think about the area and sizes.
(4) Get your seedling mix sold in bags. Potting mix (for container gardens, patio pots) works too. Do not use dirt from the ground! It is too dense and does not drain well, will be too heavy and could harbor many problems. Get at least 4 to 6 quarts of seedling mix and make sure the bag is fresh, etc. Seedling mix is written on the bag and should be available now at your local garden centers or stores like Agway. And again, my kits have some mix in the kits to start your sowing of seeds indoors. Pre-moisten the mix a bit before you put it into your pots.
(5) Sow the parsley or salad mix seed directly into the top of the pot filled with your seedling mix to about 1/4″ from the top. Only a few seeds (some say a pinch of like 5-6 seeds) and lightly cover it (the seeds) with seedling mix. I give specifics on seeds in my kits but the seed packet also tells you the depth of the seed, etc. Since the seed are so tiny for parsley and salad mixes, you scatter it over the top of the soil and gently cover it with the seedling mix. Then water gently – I give more details in my instructions to buyers so this is in simple terms.
(6) Place them in a warmer location if possibleat first – say your kitchen bay like window is cold like mine in the winter, it will be too cold to germinate the seeds, but if you have warm spot – like a window with the heating radiator below it or maybe even on the floor near a slider window that faces south or west, or a table in a warm spot in your home by a window with some sun, start them there then hang them in your window or place them into your garden kitchen window after they germinate or place them on the shelf in the kitchen window.
Similar to what I did with my baskets of herbs, I started them in a warmer spot, they germinated (sprouted) and grew a little, and then I hung them on the south facing slider window area for as long as they lasted. If the area where you are trying to get the seeds to sprout is too cold, it will be very slow to germinate and not sprout from the soil. Hope this is making sense. On top of it – parsley seed is slower in general to germinate – just how that seed is, so be patient. If you want to take it a step higher, get a heat mat to put below the pots or window box, and or get some grow lights.
Or if your kitchen garden window gets lots of sun, you may start them there. But a cold area in the home is a no-go. If you have a sun room for example, and it is cold, it won’t work. If you have a window with a big cold draft, that will keep the potting or seedling mix too cold. Roots do not like cold and it will slow the growth.
Grocery store herbs
Oh, another quick thought – those herbs you buy in the grocery store that are in little black pots with soil. I don’t find they continue to grow all that well in winter inside the home (especially the basil). But in the summer, basil are easier to keep growing either indoors or outdoors (again because they like warmth). This is just based on my experience. I’ve been working with plants for 10 years, and every time I didn’t have basil handy, and grabbed one of those pots in the grocery store, and placed it on my kitchen bay window area, it kind of didn’t thrive. Probably, again because the bay kitchen window is too cold in the winter.
I hope this post helps you if you are a beginner. I’ve done all my gardening in pots of all shapes and sizes, and this is referred to as “container gardening.” Gardening with herbs in pots or window boxes to me, is a form of container gardening. Container gardening is a great way to learn. There are tons of sites out there with tips on how to grow herbs, and I sense many want to grow herbs indoors in their kitchen. Start off small and learn. Let me know how you make out! Comment below. Thanks!!
Cathy Testa Container Crazy CT Location: Broad Brook Section of East Windsor, CT
Last season, I grew two types of dwarf tomatoes from seed. I was interested in dwarfs for a couple reasons, one being that dwarf tomato plants are well suited for growing in container gardens and patio pots and because I truly enjoy mixing up the types of tomatoes I grow.
Mandurang Moon Dwarf
Mandurang Moon Tomato was one dwarf I picked out. It has a dwarf habit which refers to the plant’s size (not the size of the tomatoes). It also grows a thicker stalk so it is a bit more solid and sturdy. And the tomato shape is round to oval, with a mild yellow to cream coloring. The size of the tomato fruit is larger than a cherry tomato, but not as large regular sized tomato. However, I had issues with starting them indoors from seed, and at first, I was miffed as to why.
SLOW TO NO GERMINATION
I grew them along with all my other types of tomato seeds. All were placed in the same type of seedling trays and set on seedling heat mats in the same environment in my greenhouse, and with same exact seedling potting mix. I wasn’t sure what went wrong, but I quickly noticed the Mandurang Moon tomato seeds were not germinating well. I had only a few which sprouted as compared to other tomato seeds I was starting.
THIS DWARF PLANT NEEDED MORE WARMTH
I took the seed packet back out of my files, and re-read the directions. A key aspect stood out. It says to “start seeds indoors in a warm location with plenty of light.” The “warm location” was key. Upon doing more research, I discovered warm could mean up to 80 degrees F. I can’t remember where I read that temperature, but I wrote it down in my notes so I would remember for this year, that these dwarfs may need a bit more paying attention to in regards to temperature and light as compared to the other types of tomatoes I grew from seed.
COLD TEMPERATURES WILL PREVENT GERMINATION
My greenhouse, which is a lean-to style, is not heated to 80 degrees in March or April when my seeds are typically started. It is more along the lines of a 55-60 degree F greenhouse because I would be homeless if I heated the greenhouse to higher temperatures. Heat costs are high, so I keep it to 55 to 60 degrees F.
However, on sunny days, the greenhouse temperature quickly rises to above 80 degrees F. It is like the tropics on sunny days, no doubt. Usually this flux of temperatures (55 degrees F on cloudy days to over 80 degrees F on sunny days) scenario is not a problem for starting seeds, but apparently, it could be an issue for this type of seed (as noted, it needs warmth). Most seeds germinate best in temperatures from 60 to 75 degrees F. And having a greenhouse offers abundant sunlight unless we have clouds all day, which contributes to the warm and light requirements.
CLOUDY DAYS OF WINTER
In the winter, we get many cloudy days. I started to consider the seeds did not germinate well because overall my greenhouse is not warm enough. And I don’t currently use grow lights. Usually all is fine with my tomato growing from seed with the sun’s rays through the greenhouse windows and roof, but in this case, it may have caused the slow germination to no germination issue and made this dwarf a bit more difficult to germinate from seed. Although not all was lost. By the way, when I start researching grow lights, I will share it here. Supplemental light, especially if growing indoors in the home, could be as easy as mounting a fluorescent light above the seedling trays. Adding grow light enhances all overall.
I knew the seeds were fresh and not old, so it was not due to a potential viable issue. If seeds are not stored appropriately, this could be a problem for germination. And as far as light, well, I’ve been fine for years with the sunlight I receive in my greenhouse (on the sunny days), but overall, seedlings need light once they emerge from the soil. Otherwise, they may grow leggy, and the best scenario is about 14-16 hours of light. One of these days, I may invest in grow lights but the greenhouse natural light has worked for me for many many tomatoes.
NUTURED THOSE WHICH DID SPROUT
I did have some of the Mandurang Moon seed which sprouted, and I was very careful to nurture them since there were not many, and I planted them along with all my other tomato plants outdoors when the safe outdoor planting timing approached. And the dwarf Mandurang Moon did produce fruit and they were delicious. So not all was lost. The seeds for this dwarf are started early indoors. And transplanted outdoors when they are about 5″ tall.
TIMING IS 6 TO 8 WEEKS BEFORE FROST
The timing of when to sow this dwarf type is indicated at 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost date. That puts me in the March timeframe when it is still cold outdoors, but as noted, it often becomes a tropical oasis in my greenhouse on sunny days. However, I think what I will do this year is two things: Sow these seeds a bit later (closer to the 6 week date before frost date) and also I may just do a seedling tray inside the home to compare the differences. Will the fact my home is warmer than inside the greenhouse improve the germination rate and timing? We will see. Maybe I will have them germinate in the house and move them to the greenhouse when they get a few leaves growing so they will obtain ample sunlight to keep on growing. I will keep you posted! As far as the other dwarf I grew from seed, I will write about that one later!
Please, if you enjoyed this post, please comment and/or share any dwarf plants you grew in the tomato category. I’d love to hear if you have any tips to offer.
Last season, I grew about 5-6 tomato plants in 20 gallon black fabric grow bags along one side of my upper deck. The end of the deck, where we lined them up, is the east end and I put the plants along the deck’s wooden railing on the south side, opposite the wall of my house.
Each grow bag had one individual tomato plant in it and the grow bags were spaced out about 3 to 4 feet apart. I also put the grow bags on caddies with wheels (plant saucers) so I could turn or re-arrange them as needed. Each had a square tomato cage placed around the plant for support. I prefer the square cages, they fit perfectly in the fabric grow bags and remain stable.
This is what the plant looked like in the grow bag, but it gets over grown quite quickly in summer, with the tomato stems reaching up and over the deck railings, thus harvesting the tomatoes later in the season was getting a bit tricky.
No worries, my husband, Steve, loves tomatoes so much, he quickly grabbed a ladder from our garage and carefully climbed up to pick the cherry tomatoes which were unreachable from the deck side. We grew a few different types of cherry tomatoes in these fabric grow bags, but hands-down, one of my all time favorites is the “honey drop cherry tomato.”
We, my husband and I, snack on these delicious cherry tomatoes all summer long. In fact, sometimes I have to remind Steve to leave some for me when we get a basket full. He gobbles them up quickly.
AS CLOSE TO A HONEY TASTE AS YOU CAN GET
The honey drop cherry tomatoes are a beautiful golden color and are very sweet. The seed packet shows a bear going for the tomatoes, and this makes sense to me. They are as sweet as honey. And my honey, Steve, harvested them often for us (or for himself!).
The name of this cherry tomato is perfect because if you ask me, the flavor of them is as close to honey as you could get. It is like eating a piece of honey candy without the guilt. Thus, the bear on the seed packet, again makes sense. I’m not sure what else I can say about how yummy these are!
When Steve was gathering them for us from the ladder, of course, I was saying, “Be careful – don’t fall down.” I’m so happy he enjoys tomatoes immensely because I certainly put the effort into growing them (and I enjoy the whole process from start of seeds to the first and continuous tasty bites in summer), and I grow all my plants in container gardens. It is worth the effort for both of us.
FABRIC GROW BAGS ARE HANDY
I find the fabric grow bags work wonderfully on the deck, for many reasons. Such as they are light weight to set up initially, easy to order and store, they have handles attached, so I roll the plants around easily by tugging on the handle (in the beginning phases when I set them up), and the air is able to breath through the fabric which offers many soil and root benefits, yet, we know, or you may not know, depending on how often you visit this blog, that watering is required because the soil in the container gardens (grow bags in this case) dry out much faster than they would in the ground. Drainage works well through the fabric, thus no drilling of drain holes in the bottom of the pots (as done with plastic pots) is required. Also, when the season is over, and I cut all the tops of the plants off, Steve and I each grab one handle and carry the big root ball down to the driveway for when I do my clean up phases in the fall.
OTHER TYPES OF CHERRY TOMATOES
These cherry tomatoes are a nice size, but another type I’ve grown, Fox Cherry Tomato, is a bit larger, and you see some of those in the photo above (the reddish ones in the basket which Steve is holding). The location on the deck is pretty good from the standpoint of receiving full sun most of the day and the area is easy to water. We have a garden hose at that end of the deck always ready to do my routine of watering all plants in containers on our deck – which I rather enjoy, so it is not a bother to me. I find watering therapeutic. When I water my plants, at least daily in the heat of summer, I enjoy looking at the plants, seeing the cherry tomatoes ripen, and I may even have a hummingbird come by to investigate the plants near my cherry tomato plants, or I will watch the bees visiting the flowers earlier, things like that – I just don’t mind it.
You can see all the many clusters on this plant, hanging from above, and the plants seemed very happy indeed to keep on growing this way. In fact, it allowed some nice air circulation around the stems hanging to avoid any potential issues. Poor air circulation around tomato plants may lead to disease problems later. As noted in the prior post, a squirrel did find a tomato or two but overall, we managed to harvest them for ourselves. The squirrels could not really reach the clusters hanging so that was a nice benefit too.
WHEN TO SOW THE SEEDS
These cherry tomatoes are started indoors 4 to 6 weeks before our last frost date in Connecticut. They need a warm bright spot indoors (if you sow them in your home). I start my seeds in my greenhouse on heat mats and had no issues with these types of seeds sprouting easily and growing until I could harden them off outdoors later and before they are grown outdoors in their permanent locations. They were a popular selection when I sold the seedlings because those of you who bought them the year before discovered how amazing the flavor is and it is a vigorous grower. You can expect to start picking cherry tomatoes from it about 70 days from the time you transplant the seedlings into your containers, grow bags, or the gardens. In fact, I think if you are new to sowing seeds or starting vegetable plants, cherry tomatoes are one of the easiest to grow and you get a huge harvest, so it is very rewarding.
A FEW SEED PACKETS AVAILABLE
I have a few seed packets of the honey drop cherry type remaining from my last year seed orders, and I have other cherry tomatoes on the ready to grow this season. The Fox Cherry is another favorite, but for flavor, I have to say, I think the honey drop were the best last year – well, we can’t say that can we? Cause all fresh home-grown tomatoes taste amazing! I guess the main difference with the fox cherry and honey drop is the fox cherry tomatoes are larger. I also like to grow the Bumble Bee Mix Cherry tomatoes, which I will blog about soon. I got more of the bumble bee type (new seeds) because I ran out of those seeds last year. They are somewhat a striped color (pink, yellow, and sometimes a slight purple tone, also super tasty). The bumble bee type need to be sown earlier than the honey drop however, but no bother, I can’t wait to start sowing seeds.
By the way, the honey drop cherry tomato is indeterminate, with a vining habit (versus bushy) and keeps growing and growing giving you a steady supply of fruit until the fall frost kills the plants. I don’t pinch or sucker the plants. When they get a bit unruly because of so many stems growing, I may cut off some of the stems with clean pruners to give the plant more air circulation as needed. Otherwise, I let the ramble all around. I have taken a small round table to prop up some of the stems on the deck side as needed. I know it may seem silly, but it is all worth it to me and to Steve. We love these cherry tomatoes, and so will you if you decide to try them.
Thank you for visiting my blog. Please comment by clicking the link below or the red comment box (if viewing from a laptop), I’d love to hear from you. Let me know, what is your favorite cherry tomato to grow in your gardens?
The squirrels discovered my beautiful Upstate Oxheart tomatoes on my deck last year and out of frustration, I decided to net them with plastic fruit type netting. You can see from this photo, the tomatoes are huge. The seed packet details these as “a stunner: huge, heart-shaped, and delicious fruit,” all of which is very accurate.
GROWING FROM SEED
I have grown these from seed the past couple years and I was super impressed with the yield, sizes of the fruit (2-3 lbs), and exceptional light but favorable sweet taste. Additionally, they really do look like the inside of a heart when you slice them open. Both my husband and I enjoyed eating these beauties, and it didn’t take long for a squirrel to spot them up on my high level deck along the railing last season last summer at the peak of their tomato’s ripening phases. They ripen to a rosy pink color.
FABRIC GROW BAGS
I grew them in my black fabric grow bags last year and the plants grew large and some of the branches hung over the railing of the deck. Each time I’d witness a fruit starting to turn slightly pink, I started to worry about a squirrel discovering them – which they did and that was starting to get really annoying. Nothing is more frustrating then seeing a big bite out of a huge tomato just about to ripen to maximum perfection! Ugh!
DID THE NETTING WORK?
Did the white plastic netting, surrounding the fruit only, work? Kind of. I didn’t see them munch on them in the nets, but I also got accustom to taking the fruits off the plant before they were fully ripened so the squirrel wouldn’t have a chance either. Then I would let the tomato fruit finish ripening on the counter. This worked just fine for this type of tomato – meaning it ripened with no big issues right on the counter.
WHEN TO START THE SEEDS
I didn’t order new seeds of this type this season because I still have some packets left from 2020 and they are still very much viable, but I probably will not sow all of them, or if I do, just a limited amount this year because I am excited to try new types of tomato and have new 2021 seed for the newbies on my seed sowing list.
But this type of tomato needs to be started early. The upstate oxhearts seeds should be started 6-10 weeks before our last spring frost date. Last year, I started them at the 10 week mark, but this season, I’m going to wait to start them a little later. I found they grew quite large in the greenhouse and some needed to be potted up into gallon pots, so I made a note to maybe start them more like at the 8 week mark and see how that goes.
HARD WIRED MESH IN A BIG POT WORKED
The squirrels seem to be more aware of my goodies the past two years. The year prior, I grew the upstate oxheart tomatoes in a giant black plastic pot, which is 3 feet tall, so kind of my waist height. I inserted 3 feet long bamboo poles into the pot along the top rim and then surround the whole thing with hard-wired mesh. That definitely kept out any critters, like squirrels or groundhogs, but it was difficult for me to “reach in” to get the tomatoes. However, it did prevent any unwelcomed diners from visiting the fruit. The pot also was located in a place that was a job to drag my garden hose to it to water, but it worked at keeping critters away! In fact, I found those really big pots to be useful that way – they can’t easily climb up the pot and into the big pots, but for those in grow bag last year, on my deck, squirrels would sometimes jump from a tree limb onto a deck railing to go investigate. We decided to trim back some trees near the end of the deck to make it more difficult for them.
SQUIRRELS WON’T STOP ME
The whole issue of squirrels visiting the tomato fruits is a big problem it seems for many, but for myself, I know it won’t stop me from growing tomatoes again this year. One neat thing that happened with the plastic mesh (shown in the photo above) is a cross-cross pattern appeared on the skin of the fruit. It developed a pattern! That was interesting.
I suppose I will keep testing more techniques to keep the squirrels away. I read that hot pepper spray may work, and there are probably some products on the market. But for now, my strategy is a) not to give up, b) pick the fruit before it is fully ripe, c) yell at the squirrels, and or d) grow them in that super-sized pot again that is so high up and wrap the whole thing in hard type of mesh wire. Gosh, the things we do for fresh juicy tomatoes.
WHEN THEY RIPEN
Upstate oxheart tomatoes ripen 84 days from transplanting the seedlings into your pots or gardens. They are indeterminate plants so they will keep growing taller and produce fruit continuously. Pruning or staking them is necessary or letting the branches (vines) topple over my deck railing worked well. The plant can reach up to 10 feet high. It sprawls out and around and when I grew them in that big black pot I mentioned above, the hard-wired mesh I put around it served to help support it as well. The fruits, which can grow to 3 lbs sizes, are heavy so that extra support is helpful.
I picked up my bags of potting mix soil early this year. It felt even a bit crazy, to be driving to go get them, when there were very cold temps outdoors that day, yet, it was a very sunny winter day and I was enjoying that part of it. But I did pause to think, “Am I getting these too early?”
Last year, I used more bags of potting mix than I expected, and I am constantly potting up plants, moving succulent babies into small pots, repotting larger plants, then comes seed starting soon where both my potting mix and seedling mix is used in trays. I also use some in my container installs later in the season, and it is kind of endless. I even repot houseplants for people from time to time. So, I need potting mix, and lots of it.
One thing I have noticed a lot lately, on various Facebook group pages related to gardening, plants, and interior houseplants, is the constant frustrations by people, some are newbies, some are not, on how they get fungus gnats in their houseplant pots inside their home. Everyone suggests a remedy they have tried from putting cinnamon on the soil to using hydrogen peroxide, misquote bits, and other home remedies. Whatever their remedy is, there is a growing (no pun intended) frustration with issues such as fungus gnats in the pots of plants and it has to be difficult for people to accept, especially when it gets out of control. They want to succeed and keep their plants healthy, but they encounter something like this and it drives them nuts.
No growing mixes are immune to fungus gnat infestation, but fungus gnat numbers can vary among growing mixes. Adults are strongly attracted to microbial activity in soil/media. For fungus gnat management, avoid immature composts (<1yr old), including composted pine bark mix. Mixes with any compost are usually more attractive to fungus gnats than pure sphagnum peat. Good sanitation is vital.
Fungus Gnat Biology and Control J.P. Sanderson
I thought this statement above from the Cornell fact sheet by J.P. Sanderson was key, especially when he wrote, “no growing mixes are immune to fungus gnat infestation” and also the part about mixes with compost are usually more attractive to fungus gnats. In other words, to me anyhow, the more sterile and clean the mix, the less likely you will get the dreaded FGs (fungus gnats) in the potting mix when the conditions are right for them to start up in the pot (such as moisture and temperature).
Many times, on these gardening Facebook pages, people will say, “I use those yellow sticky tapes” to get rid of them, but in my opinion, those do not get rid of them – they MONITOR them. As noted above, these are useful to keep track of the amount of a FG infestation you may have and they also should be placed relatively close to the plant’s surface area. If you have a yellow sticky cards filled with them and you see FGs flying all around your kitchen, you definitely have a major problem. Usually the best place to start is thinking about the potting soil mix you used in the first place, and also your habits on how often and much you water your plants in pots inside the home.
“However, the primary reason why fungus gnats are abundant in homes is related to changes in moisture levels associated with the growing media of houseplants. Fungus gnat adults are highly attracted to moist growing media. Furthermore, as the growing medium ages or degrades it tends to retain more moisture, which will also attract fungus gnat adults. In addition, decreased day length and cooler temperatures slow plant growth and water usage. If watering practices are not altered….
But one reason I pulled this quote from the article above (in the black box) is because I feel I see more of the FG problem in the winter as well. As they are pointing out, three things occur: the FGs like moisture and they note growing medium (potting mixes) sometimes hold onto too much moisture (meaning if in a pot for years and it doesn’t drain well for whatever reason), and lastly, plants tend to slow down growth in the winter months inside the home, so less moisture is being used up by the plants now in the winter months (so it stays too damp and maybe even too cold).
Another article noted that people notice FGs more so in the winter because they are inside with their plants, versus the plants perhaps being located outside during the summer, or you are outside more in the summers than winter. Houseplants in particular grow slowly and roots may not take up as much moisture such as a big tropical plant would in the summer outdoors. You get the idea. But they are pointing out, you may just notice them more in the winter months than summer.
Whatever the reason, these FGs are a real PIA to people. And they ain’t pretty either when you get into sowing seeds in a few months for your warm season vegetables, such as tomatoes, in your seedling trays. So, it is critical you pick the correct seedling mix in the first place. And have the right temperature, environment, clean pots, and good potting or seedling mix, in this case when you start your seeds. Perhaps correct is not the right wording, you want quality seedling mix.
Usually my number one rule, when you go to buy potting mix or seedling mix, is to be sure you are purchasing fresh mix that is in good standing condition in the bag. If the bag is a mess, at whatever location you are getting them from, I’d stay away. I’ve talked about this in the following post:
When I see people upset that they can’t get rid of the FGs in their planted house plants in pots (from these posts I’ve been reading), and they feel they’ve done everything right, such as let the soil dry out on the top (since the FGs prefer moisture), they bought reputable potting mix from a reputable place, they keep their pots and areas clean, their pots have drain holes, they been careful with watering, and they are truly trying to be the best plant parent they can be, I feel their pain. Why, oh why, can’t we count on potting mixes in the retail market place to be problem-free?!
I remember once telling a guy at a garden show years ago that when I get my greenhouse I’m going to keep it super clean, and he laughed and said, bio-diversity is just as important. True I’ve learned, and no matter how clean, you just can’t sometimes prevent nature from stepping in. That is true.
And I agree with the above article too, if the soil is too damp, AND cold, and in winter, I think there is more of an issue with FGs (fungus gnats) appearing. The best thing you can do is ACT on it immediately when you see the little buggers flying around your potted plant.
However, I do everything I can to start with good, quality potting mixes. And I see that question asked often on Facebook gardening like group pages, well, what is the BEST mix?
Oh boy, that one gets all kinds of responses. I know which I like and which I don’t. I don’t get any paid advertising on my (this) blog at all, so if I listed them, it would not be for the purposes of gaining that but I also sometimes don’t want to list them because they can seem like the best, and whack, you get FGs anyhow!
One year, I offered a Seed Starting Workshop and we decided to test various seedling mixes. Each attendee had 32 cell trays and we split up the rows by using a different seedling mix per row. We used some of my professional potting mix and other potting mixes on the market, and two different types of “seedling mixes”. One type of seedling mix, for some reason, completely failed. The seedlings in those rows were so tiny and did not grow much. All the other rows were just fine. All was sown at the same time and in the same growing conditions, and I was watering the seedlings after the class for a few weeks for the attendees. I was so excited that I even thought of testing out the various potting and seedling mixes in this experiment without knowing the results would show us a really good example of how you might think a mix is great (and I did think the brand and place I got from was reputable) but it failed. Why? Hmmm. One thing was that mix did have more heavy components (bark) even though it was listed as “seedling mix.” As per the note in the first listed article above where they said mixes with more compost are more attractive to FGs, so the mix was heavier and probably a bit more compost like. Where all the other mixes were primarily sphagnum peat moss and perlite.
I never went back to the retail store to say, hey, we used this mix – and it really didn’t work well compared to the others. But what would the store owner say? He’s probably think I was a nut job. Not knowing, I’m Cathy T. LOL.
For years, I’ve been saying, I’m going to write a full blog post about potting mixes and which are the best (in my opinion based on use). And make it very technical, but I still really haven’t done that. I always just repeat what I’ve always said, use a fresh bag of quality potting mix (or seedling mix if sowing seeds) and follow these watering instructions (provided with my kits or in my workshops, etc.) and all should be fine.
I think probably the most important thing is the potting or seedling mix needs to be fresh, sterile, and well-draining. Mixes with additional components are sometimes too heavy for container gardening, seed starting trays, and patio pots. It also greatly depends on what you are growing (seeds versus a perennial plant). Heavier potting mixes are needed for certain types of plants. But I’m generally referring to seedlings right now and smaller plants, or those in smaller pots, such as houseplants being a good example.
As you can see, it is a hard topic to narrow down.
Because I am vigilant at cleaning my greenhouse and keeping watch of my plants, and my pots, and picking up debris, using good potting or seedling mix to start with, I rarely have a potting mix issues or major fungus gnats. However, recently I had one big succulent plant in a single 6-7″ pot, and I saw them, saw those FGs flying around that particular plant, and I immediately put a yellow sticky pest trap card near the surface of the succulent plant on a little stake inserted into the pot, and yup, I knew right away that plant had an issue when I checked that card one or two days later. There were quite a few FG attached to it in places. I tried treating it, the soil, with various methods. Then I checked again, the problem was not going away. What did I do? I repotted the whole plant into new fresh potting mix and even a new fresh pot, and I’ll keep watching. I did it because I love that big succulent, and it was worth it to redo the potting of it, at least it was worth it to me. Plus I didn’t want it to spread to other plants.
Because this topic is big and is difficult to write about, I’m going to stop writing right here and continue more on this later. It is time for my second cup of coffee!
BTW, my seedling kits come with my professional well-draining fresh potting mix (the one I trust) and planting instructions, growing charts, when to sow timing, seedling trays and seeds! If you are local to my areas, check out my offerings on www.WORKSHOPSCT.com. I am offering free delivery to areas near me!
Last year, when I was showing my seed packets for sale and my sowing process, a friend who was interested in both asked me, “How many seeds are in a packet?“
This seems like a reasonable question to ask, especially if you haven’t tried sowing seeds before. In general, for the seeds I sell, there are about 25 seeds in the tomato and cherry tomato seed packets, except for one I offer called, Upstate Oxheart tomato. It has only 15 seeds per packet. Why? The tomatoes are nearly seedless and that is apparent when you cut a Oxheart tomato in half – and yes, it is shaped just like a heart – amazing. There are hardly any seeds in the actual tomato. This makes a challenge for the seed producers, so I always am sure to sow those seeds carefully as I don’t want to waste one – these tomatoes are big and juicy.
The same is about true for the hot pepper plants I’ve sown and grown, about 25 seeds per packet, and cucumbers. But plants like parsley will have 200 seeds, same with the basils, and they are smaller seeds than the typical tomato or hot pepper seed in size. In fact, they are so tiny that I am unsure how anyone could plop one tiny seed per a seed cell tray filled with seedling mix. Often, I will scatter seeds over the top of the seedling mix and lightly dust it with fine seedling mix to cover them. That is the case with how I handle parsley and basil seeds. Same with some lettuce mixes. I call it the ‘scatter’ method and I show exactly how I do it via my video’s. Videos are provided to my purchasers of seeds and seed kits, by the way.
Most seed companies will identify the number of seeds per pack, but other companies may just list the net weight on the packet or envelope. Some will provide this information in milligrams.
Seed sizes vary. Hot pepper and tomato seeds are about the same size, but larger seeds, like those of cucumbers or a moonflower, for example, are much larger and easier to handle. Larger seeds are great to use if sowing seeds with young children learning for the first time how to sow seeds. Think pumpkin seeds too.
I obtained Celosia seed one year. This is a flowering plant producing colorful fuzzy flowers, but the variety I selected is a mammoth type. It grows up to 60″ tall and you need to start the seed early indoors. When I opened the packet, I couldn’t believe how tiny the seeds were. There are 200 seeds per packet. Can you imagine sowing 200 seeds and having 200 of those plants?! So, I’m sure there is a method to sow seeds which are super tiny, but I decided to fill a square flat tray of about 3.5″ deep with the soil mix and just scatter the seeds on top. It worked. They germinated and then I carefully pricked out the seedlings when they were ready into 3-4″ pots to continue growing them. I have to admit though, I am not sure if this was the best or recommended method. To give you an idea of how small the Celosia seeds are, the packet indicates that there are about 600,000 seeds in 1 pound.
I often use the scatter method with lettuce mixes too, and will sow them in small long window box types of containers, always being sure to drill drainage holes in the bottom if there are none. I find for lettuce mixes, parsley, and basil, this scatter method works perfectly. It is important to scatter them as evenly as possible and you don’t need a whole packet to do this (unless your window box is huge). For example, one type of lettuce mix I sow has 500 seeds per packet. I often use half of the seed packet or less per container. Then I lightly top the seeds with fine seedling mix and let it all grow. If you want to prick out each individual tiny seedling later, you may do so to put them into larger pots (or the next size pot up) for the basils for example. Some may find the scatter method wasteful, but it works for me. Because you may harvest lettuce mixes, parsley, and basil repeatedly from the plant by cutting some off and just letting it regrow, I find this is suitable.
Another time, I grew Panther Edamame Soybeans from seeds. The seeds are large, similar to cucumber seeds (but round), they are easy to handle. I was so excited when I grew these in patio pot containers on my deck. Because it is just me and my hubby at home, a couple plants was sufficient to get a handful of edamame beans to put in a bowl, add some water, and micro-wave to heat them up and then I toss some sea salt on them and eat the beans right from the pods. Yummy. They have a nutty flavor and these seeds may be direct sown into the ground or your patio pots if you want, versus starting them early indoors before the planting season. The packet holds about 100 seeds.
Some seeds need special treatment prior to sowing them, but tomato and hot pepper seeds are not one of them, but others like the moonflower needs to be nicked before you plant them. Otherwise, the hard seed coat prevents water from entering the seed for germination to start easily. When handling a seed that requires nicking (scarification), it is easier if the seed is bigger; it helps a lot as you attempt to make a nick in it without damaging the interior of the seed (the embryo). Many seeds with hard coats need to be nicked with a file, sandpaper, or a tool. Some may be soaked in water first. It is best to research the seed before proceeding and follow the recommended method. I have never seen a tool specifically for nicking hard coated seeds on the market (I think if someone invented it, it would sell like hotcakes). I read once that commercial growers use acid, something we surely can’t play with! Some hard coated seeds with crack open if you soak them for 24 hours.
Do you sow a whole packet of seeds? Let’s talk tomatoes, if you have 25 seeds in the packet, should you sow them all? Some may say yes because if any of them fail, you will have extra’s. Some will say no because are you really going to plant all 25 of those tomato plants? And if you did sow all of them, remember, you have to move them from the seed cell trays at some point into a next larger size pot and may even have to move them into a 1-gallon size pot before they go outdoors. This requires more pots and more potting mix.
One thing I love about the seed packets I get and sell is they are an envelope within an envelope. Each packet has a envelope (white) containing the seeds, and it has all the planting details on the white envelope. The white envelope is inside an outer separate envelope with even more plant information, and it is a colorful art pack made with a thicker type paper. It is almost like a little sleeve to protect your seeds within. I like that because if you don’t use all of the seed, you have a protected package to store them in.
Storing is another topic but when well stored, the seeds will remain viable based on the seed type and all of that, and the number of years is different based on the type of seed or plant. Look it up if you are concerned and use up all the seed if it is a type that doesn’t remain viable for more than one year. Parsley is an example. Parsley seed should be used in year one. At least for the type of parsley I have been sowing.
The next question that followed how many seeds are in a packet, was of course, ok, “How much soil (seedling mix) do I need?”
That is a good question! I love questions! LOL. The seedling mix often comes in an 8 quart bag in retail locations. I will put about that amount into a big bowl and add some water (I think it was one cup but I will double-check) and then very lightly stir it to moisten the mix. You don’t want mud or mush, you only want to lightly give it moisture. In fact, don’t pour the whole cup of water in there initially, pour some water, and mix and feel it in your hands. I often sow seeds in 32 cell plastic black trays with 3-3.5″ depth. I like that size plus they fit nicely on my seedling heat mats. I use about 8 cups of soil per tray, I believe. I will check my notes! Your containers or seed trays should be filled with pre-moistened mix or medium (as they refer to it) before you put your seeds in the trays. You may also moisten the mix in a plastic bag if you don’t have a bowl handy. Another method is to put the dry soil into your seed trays and set it in a base of water so the water will wick up into the mix prior to sowing your seeds. I don’t do this method however. I mix the soil with water like a cook does in the kitchen in a big bowl and it works for me. The seed kits I offer has mix, trays, and instructions as well.
By the way, I like the plastic trays because they are pathogen free and reusable. I have had issues with peat pots before. For some reason, they tend to grow mold on the sides. I tend to stay away from those now, however, if you use peat, I’ve read you need to moisten the pots first and never to reuse the peat pots which would be difficult anyhow because they fall apart. Peat pots are great for plants which do not like their roots disturbed (cucumbers) so you place the peat pot and the plant right into the ground when they are ready for outdoors. And I have never used compressed peat pellets. They are just not for me, perhaps because I always have soil mixes on hand. In fact, I got all my soil bags already last week. I wanted to plan ahead. More on the soil and potting mix world later, that is a big topic. Sowing starts in March so I am preparing ahead right now in January – and you should too!
Thanks for visiting.
Cathy Testa 860-977-9473 firstname.lastname@example.org See http://www.WORKSHOPSCT.com if interested in seed packet purchases. Location: Broad Brook, CT Part of East Windsor, CT
I was starting to worry that my seeds may be delivered late because I keep reading on various gardening websites about people experiencing shipping delays. One lady, in fact, made a joke that she has been stalking her mailman waiting for her seed delivery, which made me chuckle!
Well, my seed order arrived yesterday, and I’m thrilled. When my husband walked in from work, he said, “Your seeds are here.” He had grabbed the box from the mailbox for me.
I immediately opened the box and scanned the many seed packets. All there except one type which hopefully will show up or the charge will be removed from my invoice. So, I thought this early morning, I would just write a bit of what I do the minute I get my seed order in.
Of course, open the box and review the order. Count the packets and make sure all are in the box and in good condition. Enjoy the moment – I do!
Now, this am, I will take out one set of each type of packet I ordered (BTW, these are primarily tomato, hot peppers, herb seeds, and a couple of flowers). Because some of the sowing and growing instructions are “inside the seed packets” and not on the back of the seed packet envelope, I will keep one set of the packets for me and read all the instructions carefully (now, don’t wait). I think key is learn about the growing habits or needs of that plant a bit – don’t over look it, especially if you are totally new to trying sowing of seeds indoors before the growing season.
Take out my Planning and Growing Calendars and verify I counted back the number of weeks correctly for each type of plant. Remember, one type of tomato plant maybe slightly different than another variety. So one may say 6-4 weeks before your last frost date in spring to start sowing the seeds indoors, or it may indicate 8-10 weeks before. For example, for a few years now, I’ve grown Upstate Oxheart tomatoes. They are a type that indicate 10 weeks before, but another tomato, like my Bumble Bee cherry tomatoes, are indicated at 6-8 weeks before our last frost date. Thus, I will review Planning Charts I created to verify all, such as one chart I created which indicates “when to sow your seeds indoors based on the last frost date expected in mid-May in Connecticut.” If you have general charts from various sites, compare those with the instructions on your specific seed packets. And be aware, do not use “days from transplant” if this is noted on your packet – this is not the same “as days or weeks before frost.” The days to transplant is the number of days once the seedling is transplanted into your gardens or outdoor container gardens, fabric grow bags, or whatever place you want to grow them outside. It indicates when the plants will produce fruit or mature.
I also will day dream about how amazing these plants will be and remind myself that spring is only a few months away. Hang in there, January can be a tough month. I focus on the upcoming weeks to prepare. Some things to do now are get your growing pots and seedling trays ready (I prefer 3-3.5″ deep cell trays for proper root development and plastic because the stay clean, pathogen free, keep the soil consistently moist, and are long lasting and reusable), take out your seed heating mats and clean them up, and think about getting seedling soils before March. I usually pick up soils mid-February but I am going to get them early this year. I want to be ahead of the game. As noted in my prior post, get “seedling mixes” or “sterilized potting mix for container gardens or patio pots” to start you seeds. Avoid heavy soils which may be amended with compost as you don’t need that at the seed sowing stages. The lighter the soil, usually the better, and no dirt from the ground. Look for fresh bags, avoid cheap mixes that may be too old to take up water (meaning from dollar type stores if they look old – they may be new and just fine – just be aware). You want potting mixes made with peat, sphagnum peat moss, vermiculite and perlite if not using seedling mix. Seedling mix is finer (not as dense as container or potting mix) but both will work. Do not use mix labeled as “garden soil” or for the garden. Keep the bags in a safe dry place till use.
Store my seed packets after I have all reviewed and organized. Then wait till early March to start sowing in general (again, these are warm season vegetables (tomatoes and hot peppers) that need to be started indoors in seedling trays/cells and then transitioned to the outdoors after frost to harden off.) Hardening off is all about acclimating the seedlings you have started indoors to the outdoor exposures and temperatures gradually on the right days (shady area then gradually to sun, not too windy, not cold, and watch for shade which may not exist if trees are not leafed out yet, and only for a few hours each day, etc.). This is usually the week or two weeks before Memorial Day for me.
Key dates: Jan (get ready and order seeds early), Feb (get organized), March (start sowing), April (monitor all your seedlings), May (start potting up-moving the seedlings from your cell trays into larger one size up pots), Mid-May (start hardening off outdoors gradually), May at Memorial Day (all safe to plant outdoors).
Storing the seeds. They must stay dry and cool. No humidity, don’t put in freezing temperatures or in a hot place, like a sunny greenhouse. Keep them in a cool spot away from moisture. I put mine in metal lunch boxes! They are the perfect container. I also just happened to go to a vintage market last weekend, and found these really old lockable long boxes (steel bank safe deposit boxes) and thought, these are perfect for storing my seed packets. The metal lunch boxes or tin boxes also tend to stay cold. I put them in a room in my home that doesn’t heat well under a table away from any heat sources. In general, if you store the seeds appropriately, based on the types of seeds, they may last 3-5 years, however, some seeds are short lived and should be used the first year (i.e., parsley). The ideal conditions for storing seeds are cold (but not freezing), dark, dry places. Be aware of storing them in basements (humidity), garage (too cold or hot), greenhouse (can get too hot), and anywhere where moisture could be an issue. I have read you may store seeds in refrigerators but I have not tried that out yet.
Okay, so I don’t have much time this morning to focus on writing a post so I apologize if a bit sloppy writing and any typo’s I’ve missed! I want to get to my seeds and this is also a time where I start preparing my tax paperwork (yes, in January) so that I don’t have to focus on taxes when I want to be playing in my greenhouse in a month or so.
I will be posting things like this for those interested in my seed sowing steps. Perhaps if you are new to seed sowing indoors before the planting season, you find some of my experience here useful.