These photos motivate me to sow and grow again in 2022. I know we experienced some rough wet summer weather (as noted in my prior post) last year, but photos are what prompt me to grow again. Let’s hope we have a good growing season this year!
Nothing pleases me more than when a person who purchased a starter plant from me sends or texts me a photo as they start their harvest, such as in this photo above, sent by Shannon. Doesn’t that plate of fresh Goldie tomatoes make your mouth water?! I am planning to grow these golden delicious heirlooms again in 2022.
I also add a new tomato or two to my sowing and growing list for each season and will be providing that list to my regulars or post it on www.WorkshopsCT.com soon.
This photo of a tomato, with a bit of a purple hue, sliced up on a white plate was taken by me last summer. It is the Paul Robeson tomato with orange, green, and purple hues. It produces large sized fruit and the fruit resists cracking. I plan to sow some of these seeds as well this year. Another keeper on my list. And I pray for better weather so I can eat more of these this summer!
An an absolute must to repeat sowing again are the basils. OMG, how can one have a fresh home-grown tomato sliced up on a plate without fresh basil leaves? I can smell it now – almost!
So in January, as I write this, on 1/13/2022, I have decided on which I will sow again and have ordered my new varieties for sowing. Check! Seed ordering done!
On winter days like today, with soft white fresh snow falling, many of us start daydreaming about the seeds we will sow in a few months, and perhaps start planning out our key sowing dates, as well as ordering various supplies for starting our seeds.
Starting Seeds Indoors
Starting seeds indoors is something I’ve been doing for a few years now for warm season vegetables (tomatoes, hot peppers, and some herbs), and every year, I like to try new varieties or heirlooms. I’ve been successful with using my greenhouse to grow my seeds indoors, along with using appropriate supplies and soil mixes, and providing care (watering, monitoring, etc.) without the use of grow lights, however, this year, I think I’m ready to take the plunge and experiment with supplemental lighting.
Types of Lights
This post will not explain what you need, what type of lights you should get, or any of that, because I will be in the midst of researching and starting with just testing out one system of lights above some trays of seeds in a couple months in my greenhouse, however, I can tell you why I feel I should turn on the lights over my trays of seedlings for the first time this year.
Because it will improve the results – I think…
With a greenhouse, you have lots of advantages, such as space, heat, and “natural” sunlight. However, many winter days are cloudy and cold, with not much sunlight at all in the months of February and March (March is usually about when I start my warm season vegetable seeds). Cloudy days limit growing progress, but it won’t stop progress. I have been able to grow my seedlings fairly well but it does slow things down not having sufficient sunlight every day.
Heating Mats, Nursery Pots, Soil Mixes, and Labels…
I thought, because I’ve invested so much already by investing in using the heat mats for seedling trays and everything else, not to mention the cost to heat a greenhouse, why keep on spending? But, in the world of gardening, you always seem to be getting another item to improve your growing processes. I decided I would purchase one of the fluorescent lights sets to hang over the trays during germination and help the plants once they start to grow. My thought is I will only use the lights when the days are cloudy. On sunny days, I’ll allow the sun to warm up the greenhouse and provide the natural sunlight for the plants.
Seeing Lights in Greenhouses
I remember walking into a very large nursery up north once, and they had lights all hanging above, and thinking, hmmm, they use supplemental lights. From what I’ve been reading, the lights should be placed about 3-6″ above the seedling trays once they germinate, but you have to watch you don’t burn anything when you move them this close to the trays. I will be doing so and monitoring how the plants look. There are signs to pay attention to if the lights are too close, which I will know, because I’m accustom to monitoring plants.
Are Lights Needed to Succeed?
Some people will argue that you most definitely need artificial supplemental lights to succeed with growing seedlings indoors, but I’ve always argued that is not 100% true. I’ll let you know what I think after my first season trial with supplemental lights for my seedlings. But, I have done it without supplemental lights for years, so you can do it, but using the lights will improve the seedlings health overall. I’ve used heat mats to help keep the soil warm in the greenhouse, and adding lights may give the seedlings an extra boost. It may take them from normal to champion status. Kind of like training an athlete. Improving each time.
Types of Lights
There are fancier and more modern light options out there beyond the fluorescent types, but I’ve decided I will take baby steps this year. I want simplicity, ease of hanging them, plug in style to an outlet, and give the lights a try. I’ve just ordered the system, and some more nursery pots because I know I’ll go thru them light crazy. Then I decided I need more labels, and the supplies list begins!
Light to Germinate
Most of the seeds I grow require light to germinate (some seeds require darkness), and they need light to grow well once they have germinated in order to grow strongly. Using a greenhouse really helps of course, and/or using the fluorescent lights will improve the results – but if you use both a greenhouse and supplemental lights – it should be awesome, I hope. As long as all other factors are done appropriately along the way, such as using good seedling mix, accurate timing of starting seeds before the frost dates, and monitoring. I usually check my seedlings every day once they germinate.
Plants Produce Their Own Food
Plants use light to produce their own food. If light is not available after they germinate, they are slower growing, they may be stretchy looking from reaching for sunlight, but once natural sunlight is provided on sunny days, if they experienced a day or two of clouds, they tend to rebound very quickly in a greenhouse setting. Plus a greenhouse gets very warm on sunny days! Once I use the new supplemental lights on the cloudy days, I should see them be stronger than ever before. Stay tuned as I share my progress.
Cathy Testa containercathy at gmail.com Broad Brook, CT Zone 6b Area
One way to extend your summer harvest of hot peppers is to make hot pepper flakes. I will say this prior to writing my process, I am not an expert in this process and just tried it out this season, and did the same process with yellow hot peppers a couple years ago, and it worked out well.
I grew several types of hot pepper plants this season in containers and patio pots, all started from seed: Serranos (above photo), Matchbox (red pointy ends; grows on small compact plants), Habaneros (small yellow ones), and others like Ancho Poblanos (not shown in these photos).
Ignore the big round ones (Cherry Bombs – too hot for us! And a bit more difficult to dry using this oven this method).
I don’t have an air fryer and wondered how that would work for drying out hot peppers, but anyhow, all I do is line them out on the cookie sheet, put them in the oven at a low temperature (175 degrees) and let them sit ALL day in there. I will check them occasionally, maybe shake the cookie sheet to toss them around, and just wait. The house will have a unique cooking smell.
Drying in the Oven at a Low Temp
It will take all day or maybe even out that night and put back in the next day for a few more hours to dry them out. I will cut some in half mid-way thru the drying process. Be very careful as the oils will get on your finger tips. Then if you touch your face, you will get a burning sensation.
Pick out all the peppers that are completely dry from your cookie sheet after it has cooled, and put them into a mini food processor grinder and pulse away. It is that easy. (Remove stems prior – again, you may want to wear gloves as the oils easily get onto your hands.)
Do not use any that are mushy
Note: Do not put any peppers in the processor that are still soft and not completely dry because they will just mold in the jar later. (For example, the big round ones, called Cherry Bombs, were just too mushy so I left those out.)
After pulsing the mini grinder, wow, look at this beautiful color of very hot pepper flakes. I put my nose over the mix and it gagged me – not kidding. The scents were that powerful. I won’t be able to use these myself, but my husband will though. He shakes it on his soups and other meals during the winter. One jar is enough for the winter, but I’m sure he’d use more if I made more.
Use a Shaker Style Jar with holes in the lid
It is best to use a jar with a lid that has the open holes to shake and also, I will leave the open area open for a few days and toss these around to help the air circulation. It is important to not have any moist flakes in this – or it will just mold later. So when you dry them in the oven, be sure to not use any that are soft and not fully dried.
Growing Hot Peppers
I want to learn more about growing hot peppers because making these flakes is actually fun. There are probably better ways to dry them out – but everyone usually has an oven so this is a method I tried and it works out – for my husband. I can’t eat these – they are too hot for me.
Great Container Garden Plants
It was easy to grow various hot peppers in container gardens and patio pots. They are pretty much carefree. They like a very sunny location and do well in potting mix soils with regular watering as needed. Most of them turned to their specific ripe colors around the end of August and some still ripening in September (in my areas of Connecticut; Zone 6b). The plants can stay out till our fall frost which happens around mid to late October.
Starting from SeedIndoors
Starting them is an early start in March (about 8-10 weeks before our spring frost (referred to as a last frost). The seeds require a warm spot (80 degrees is ideal) so be sure to use seed heating mats and place in a warm location to grow them from seeds. They are transplanted into container gardens and patio pots 3 weeks after spring frost has passed.
Basically, only thing you need is a good watering routine and perhaps some small thin stakes as some of my plants got rather tall (the serrano and habaneros). The other, Matchbox hot pepper, stays compact and is perfect for smaller pots. They are pretty too – covered in bright red vivid peppers. I find they do not get affected by insects or wild animals (like squirrels).
Think spicy Shrimp Fra Diavolo. I love making it in the winter months. It is also wonderful shaked into soups, stews, on top pasta dishes, and in chili recipes. If you can handle the hot spricy flavors and heat, it is wonderful.
Because the seeds need good warmth (as noted above), they can be a little more demanding for starting from seeds, but I will try again next season. I have starter plants available in May so look me up if local and interested in the spring time.
Thank you for visiting,
Cathy Testa Container Gardener Container Garden Installer – for hire! Hot pepper grower Today’s date: 9/22/2021 Week’s weather: Rain rest of week, mid-70’s day 860-977-9473 email@example.com
One year, many years ago, I went on vacation with my husband and some friends to Cancun, Mexico. We adventured from our hotel via taxis one afternoon and stopped at a mini local market. I was so into the market, looking at all the handmade items, jewelry, knickknacks, and I then saw beautiful hand-made pottery type bowls in super colorful patterns on the inside of the bowl with a wonderful terra color to the outside of the bowls. I bought one immediately, and the man selling them did the sign of the cross with his hands after I paid him cash, and he said a prayer right in front of me. He was so thankful for my purchase. I remember thinking, wow, I wish I could buy at least 5 more of these gorgeous bowls, but they wouldn’t fit in my suitcase!
Here is the bowl filled with various tomatoes and peppers from my container gardens this year. Aren’t the colors of the bowl and fruit just amazing? It is a good way for me to display the fruit as a reference for next year when I grow the starter plants from seed again. That is my main goal usually is to show what the fruit looks like, and comment on how they tasted.
This year, again, I’ve said has been a very humid and very wet summer in Connecticut. My plants didn’t do as well as last year, but alas, I got enough fruit to give my opinion on them. If only they grew better, I would have a lot more to eat, and so would Steve, my husband.
Okay, who out there can help me? I obtained seed packets which are a mix of chili peppers. When I sowed them, I thought, “Wait, how will I know which is which when I go to sell the starter plants?!” Because it is a mix, I won’t know until I try these out and see them grow and produce peppers.
I ended up with 3-4 patio pots of the pepper plants on my deck and had to wait and see. One plant produces the pepper shown above, it turns black from a green color. One day, I tossed one on my grill whole, roasted it, and we tasted it. It was very yummy! Then I did that again a month later with some more of the black ones, and they were a lot hotter than the prior picked black peppers. The heat turned up the longer they stayed on the plant.
This one above, is on a different plant (not the same as the ones that turn black). Look at the top – how it kind of indents. I has a different shape than the ones that have been turning black on the other pepper plant on my deck. I was able to find this green one described as:
Ancho Poblano represent the golden mean of the pepper universe. They’ve got some spice, but you can easily chomp right into them. They’ve got some genuine pepper flavor, but it’s muted a bit by the heat. They’re great fresh, cooked, pickled, dried, or blistered in fire when fully ripe. They grow abundantly on bushes that reach nearly three feet tall. Plant early, though, if your goal is to maximize the number of ripe pods you get; they do require a fairly long growing season.
I agree, they have some heat. At first I questioned if they were Habaneros cause the seed packet contained some of those as well, but I thought, that can’t be possible. The Habaneros I purchase in grocery stores are not nearly as large, but these green ones are hot. My husband is the taste tester, and it is always comical to see him take a big bite, chew, and then the expression on his face! At first, he was like, “Oh, they are mild,” then a few chews after, he says…, “OH NO, they are HOT!!”, and he then spit some out. LOL.
This week, I finally spotted a pepper that is the size of the Habaneros on another plant on my deck. I thought, “Ah-ha! Here it is!” Steve hasn’t taste tested it yet. It is supposed to turn yellow so I will let you know. So basically, all the seeds in this packet are a mix. It also includes a red pepper (small oval long shape) that starts green, and I think this is a Serrano pepper.
Well, I am thinking these are Serranos, but I’m not 100% positive. Steve still has yet to taste these. I think I will make some salsa this weekend with tomatoes and some of these peppers to give them a try. These red peppers are abundant on a small plant in a pot on my deck. The plant looks like a Christmas tree with all the green and red peppers right now.
Thus, again, the confusion lies in the fact the seed packet has a mix of Pica Chile various species of hot pepper plants. It has been fun to witness what is produced, but the only downfall is I don’t know what I will get but I will definitely start these mixes again from seed next year for people who enjoy the adventure of seeing what types of hot peppers they will be able to use in their cooking from their plants!
Starting from my logo on the left, lets go clock wise! At the clock noon position, is a Goldie (obvious from the golden yellow color), Ancho Poblanos (green pepper, mild to hot) 1 pm, Habaneros (green small sitting on-top of some red Matchbox peppers and Tiny Tim tomatoes), a Mandurang Moon tomato at 6 pm, another green Ancho Poblanos, and then the black peppers (name unknown) at the 9-10 pm position of a clock. There are others in there, such as Paul Robeson tomatoe and a StoneRidge, and a Cherokee Purple.
Granted, some of the fruit doesn’t look perfect, some cracking from too much moisture this season (lots and lots of rain storms), and all that – but overall, they still taste amazing.
This one is definitely a Matchbox hot pepper (pointy tip) in a different pot and not from the “mix of variety seed packet.” It is from a separate packet and I’ve grown them before, they are super compact, perfect in small pots, and product lots of hot red peppers, starting from green color.
I’m pretty sure this is the Cherokee Purple. It looks very similar to the Paul Robeson tomatoes. Paul Robeson are orangey purple green beefsteaks, and I am taste testing both. Both the Cherokee and PR’s are just amazing. My only disappointment is I wish I had more of the plants on my deck or in a garden. I did restrain myself this season, I can only keep up with so much watering, I thought. Then it poured like heck this summer. Things got over watered by nature.
The PR’s are noted to resist cracking and have exceptional flavor. They just look very similar to the Cherokee and sometimes I forget which I took a photo of later when I start to blog and post about them.
Speaking of tomatoes which resist cracking, I would say by observation this season, Goldies fit that description as well. They are blemish free and absolutely perfect looking yellow golden tomatoes. I wrote about them in my prior post this month. It is an heirloom and sweet golden flesh. They do melt in your mouth. Oh I hope next year will be better growing season cause I want these again for sure!!!
The Mandurang Moon tomatoes are about the size of cherry tomatoes and a pale yellow. I thought when I cooked with them in a sauce, it intensified the flavor of this tomato. They are also perfect, no blemishes, and firm. The plant stays shorter with stalky center stems and leaves that look like potato plant leaves. I blogged about these earlier as well on this site.
Others in this bowl are some Tiny Tim tomatoes (super compact plant) and some StoneRidge. More on those later.
It is interesting to note that even though I felt like my plants suffered, I still was able to enjoy the fruit – enough for two. We add one to sandwiches, roast a couple to put next to steaks from the grill or corn, and add some to salsa’s, whatever. It was just enough to test the varieties and take notes here so I will remember come spring 2022 when I do this all over again!
Thank you and enjoy your weekend. It is supposed to cool down tomorrow after a very humid day today!
Cathy Testa Written Aug 27 2021 Container Crazy CT Located in Broad Brook/East Windsor, CT
I sell starter plants in the spring time, I install container gardens and patio pots for clients, I dabble in holiday items such as succulent topped pumpkins in the fall, and fresh greenery wreaths and kissing balls in the holiday winter season. I ponder what is next, what should I continue but I do know, I really LOVE growing the tomato plants from seed, so that is a keeper on my to-do lists! Thank you for visiting, Sorry about the typo’s or grammar errors, I have to rush out to water before the humidity kicks in! Cathy T.
Is there such a thing as a storm proof tomato? I thought of this after several strong rainstorms here in my area of Connecticut. My dwarf plants and compact tomato plants did not get any damage from the winds.
I put tomato plants on a table this year. My thinking was squirrels would be less likely to jump up if they were a little higher. And I placed a couple pots on the deck floor (red ones shown above) as well. The strategy somewhat worked, along with the fact my cat roams this area, but something did damage my plants besides the rainstorms experienced earlier, because I would find tops bent. I think a squirrel got onto my roof and jumped down onto them.
I placed three tomato plants towards the front of the table, two heirlooms and one dwarf in the center. Behind those big pots are two compact Tiny Tim tomato plants. They did not get any damage and are loaded with tons of green tomatoes.
Tiny Tim Tomato plants are a perfect small container or patio pot size. They grow small grape-like fruit and are much smaller than typical cherry tomato fruit sizes. The plant grew perfectly, no blemishes on the foliage, and lots of green tomatoes forming, but due to our rainy season, it is taking a while for them to ripen. I am hopeful however, each bite counts.
The seed packet indicates this variety will struggle if planted directly into the earth. It is perfect for small containers (mine pot is 14″ diameter and 11″ deep) and it grew perfectly. This one is great for window boxes or to put on a table as a centerpiece. Great with children too. I would have been eating these earlier in the season, but our weather reduced ripening quickly. Placing them behind the big pots helped to hide them from potential tomato robbers too.
The other tomato plant which survived windy rainstorms was the Mandurang Moon Tomato, which is a dwarf, but certainly doesn’t look that way in the photos. It has grown quite tall, about 4.5 ft or so, but it did get toppled over by a squirrel jumping on it from my house roof top. I have to trim back some trees by my deck so they don’t have a way to get on the roof.
The color of these Mandurang Moon’s are a very pale yellow. The plants are disease resistant and the stem is very strong. The stem on dwarfs are thicker and this helped it from being bent by any windy rainstorms this season. Again, lots of fruit for a while now but not ripening very quickly due to our poor weather. Hopefully we still have a chance at some sunny weather to keep things warm for our tomato plants (technically it is time and temp, not necessarily sun to help them ripen).
It’s been disappointing to not have many ripened fruit (yet), but every bite counts. Above is a photo of the Tiny Tim and Mandurang Moon fruit. Nice snackers.
It is a little heartbreaking to see all these fruits on my plants stay green. I just noticed one on my Stoneridge turning this week. Maybe there is still hope. Above is either the Goldie tomato (heirloom with sweet golden flesh – usually!) or the Cherokee Purple – I can’t remember which when I took this photo.
I’ve been worried that this year’s bad weather will discourage my tomato plant buyers next year, but one person sent me this photo of her Cherokee Purple starting to ripen. She told me their plants are huge and she is pleased. That was good news because this year, I grew a lot of starter plants! I love doing so and plan to do so again next year, providing everyone will still be interested!
I’m not kidding when I say, I think I grew about 400 tomato plants this year! Crazy! But most of them sold and I think I tossed out about 30 (after offering them out for free to any non-profit like garden places). I just could not keep up with them, so I will have to cut back a bit next season, if I can.
This was the first year I attempted growing a mix of peppers – one of which is Ancho Poblanos. It is amazing the rich shiny deep black color which evolves from the prior stage of green color. I just placed a few on my grill one day while also cooking some chicken, and they were so delicious! I am excited about these and plan to grow more of these from seeds next season.
I also like to grow hot pepper plants, which I put some of the Matchbox Peppers in the same pot with my Tiny Tims. And I grew Serranos for the first time this season in small pots. One small plant is loaded with the Serranos – all green right now. I have to figure out the best way to preserve them. Still wondering when they will turn red, but the plant is healthy.
My Stone Ridge tomato plant has lots of big fruit now too – about 2 are just starting to change color. I am not sure how the flavor will be as it seems all is behind schedule this season. The plant is extremely tall (over 6 ft) and still producing flowers. It can grow to 8 feet tall and is a big indeterminate plant.
So, this year’s lesson, the dwarf and compact plants survived the gusty rain storms, but the rain fall slowed down the ripening of our tomato fruit. Mother Nature never ceases to provide a new twist on the season’s challenges. She keeps us in check always!
Have a great weekend!
Cathy Testa Container Gardener and Installer Grower of Tomato Starts Blogger Kayaker (when not busy!) Plant Gift Creator
Usually I start hardening off my tomato starts in mid-May, but when a good weather day comes along in April, as it will today per the weather stations last night on tv, I will begin my tomato exercise program where I pull some trays from the greenhouse and put them outdoors to get some natural sunlight during the day.
Today’s weather in CT (4/28/21) is predicted to be mostly sunny, in the mid-70’s by mid-afternoon, and sunny for the first part of the day, followed by clouds in the afternoon.
per my iPhone app
Years before, I had a slope to deal with and placed them on the ground, now I have a small deck floor area which makes everything level. This helps tremendously. I will put them on portable tables, bins turned over, the wood floor, and on shelves I may have picked up here and there at tag sales or as road side finds. I also have a small drafting table outside which is usually in the greenhouse. It makes a perfect potting station for me. When not being used for potting things up, I put trays on that too.
Big factor! If it is too windy and cool, I won’t put them out. I also use my weather app on my iPhone. I find this is the most reliable source of hour to hour weather predictions. I also bring a patio umbrella to the area so it is not direct sun for the delicate tomato leaves. And make sure that umbrella is stable. The last thing you want is for it to fall over from wind on your delicate plants! There is a big tree near this staging area, but remember, the trees are not leafed out yet so why I get the umbrella setup as well.
It is about 47 degrees F outside right now as I write this and cool, with rain from last night. I’m not going to put them out this morning, I’m waiting till it warms up a bit. I’m just particular that way – my tomato plants are my babies! So time of day is just as important as the location and predicted weather for the day.
How your seedlings are cared for is super important this time of year. Spending months prior, seeding the seeds, monitoring the growth, carefully watering the seedlings, and inspecting all along the way. The last thing you want to worry about is damaging them during the hardening phases outdoors. So, I am sure to select the bigger of the seedling plants to go outside and I limit it to only a couple times a day. This makes for a great exercise program, going in and out of the greenhouse, bending and lifting trays, reorganizing only to move it all back inside a few hours later.
Usually the best time to start hardening off seedlings is a week or two before when you plan to transplant them into your container gardens, grow bags, patio pots, or gardens. This will acclimate the tender plants gradually for a couple hours every day. However, as noted above, this year, I’m doing some of this early on good days only and carefully monitoring them. I won’t do this on a day that I am not here to watch over them (literally, LOL). It is very important to make sure the place where you do this process outdoors is protected, to do this on non-windy days, and away from any potential problems.
Another important factor is to make sure you are watering appropriately, monitoring what is drying out, and pay attention to watering needs while hardening off plants. Watering is a tricky thing. You get a sense of how to balance the dry cycles (where the soil gets the oxygen it needs for the roots) and moisture cycles. Watering plants is best in the mornings, but you also don’t want to over water them. After a while, you get a sense of what is working and how the plants respond. It is definitely a science and an art. It also can be intuitive if you have a green thumb or are obsessed with plants, or it is an exact science. In fact, some big growers actually weigh the plants at different parts of the day and do this all by exact numbers and creating graphs! As for myself, I sometimes will observe if the soil looks dry on the top, feel the tray or pots for their moisture weight, know when I last watered, and in some cases, may take a seedling out to look at the roots and moisture. You want the moisture to be lower so the roots grow downward (versus wet on the top of the soil profile, which would not encourage downward root growth).
Some of my plants are in 5″ squares and others are still in 3″ round pots. I typically select only the larger seedlings for hardening off a bit early. The more delicate small ones I would not risk doing this early. It also helps to give the plants some natural air circulation by placing them outside in a protected location. I’m actually still potting up seedlings, even some which are still in the seedling starter trays. So, there are several different sizes and stages to my seedlings.
I feel especially impatient this year because it felt like a long winter. I can’t wait to put all my plants outdoors permanently but we must hold back. If you try to cross the finish line too early, you risk all the hard work you put into starting the plants from seed in the first place. But hopefully all goes according to plan with no problems so you can look forward to eating big yummy juicy fresh tomatoes, like this one shown below from last year!
Thank you for visiting. Please feel free to ask questions.
Cathy Testa 860-977-9473 firstname.lastname@example.org Container Garden Designer Small Time Grower One-Woman Owned Business Plant Enthusiast Location: Broad Brook, Connecticut Post dated: April 28, 2021
March is a key time to start sowing many warm season vegetables seeds in order to give them enough time to grow indoors before they are safely moved outdoors in mid-May.
I started sowing many seeds yesterday, and had to caution myself a few times to not over do it, which is easily done when you get on a roll. Because every seed you sow will need to be potted up at some point between now and May, you must ensure you don’t waste time, energy, and effort – as well as supplies, like seedling mix, etc.
It is important to remember, March is a big sowing seeds month. It is really when you start to hit some of the early seeds, like some hot peppers, which may be started between the 8 to 6 weeks before our spring frost date in Connecticut.
I will be sowing seeds now thru end of April for all kinds of plants. I still have some seed packets available. If you are local, and are considering sowing some of your own or want to sow with kids as a day project, now is a good time to reach out. Again, mostly seeds for tomato, cherry tomato, hot pepper plants, some herbs (parsley, thyme, basil, chives) and a speciality flower.
Other things I’m tending to is looking over some of my prized plants. And updating my WorkshopsCT.com site with current availability. Also, I’m planning out my container install game plans. And thinking spring!
We had the most gorgeous week last week, some days where we didn’t need a coat on for a period of time. The sun was just glorious and helped to push along some of my early sprouted seeds. But, I know that we get a “flash type snow storm” every March usually. In fact, last year, I wrote the words COVID with a sad face in the snow on my steps in March.
While we need to still be patient, March is a key sow month. Time to pay attention to your calendars, consider getting your seeds now before it is too late if you haven’t done so already, and clean up supplies.
Some things I’m thinking of getting for myself this year are Rain Barrels. I like the look of urn rain barrels and it is a great resource for on the go watering around the home. Another item I think I may acquire is a portable hose reel for my job sites, where it can quickly connect to an indoor tap, or perhaps a leakproof carrying type watering bag to carry water. A bag that may be rolled up like a tote. Good for me for my off site jobs because I usually have to put a lot into my truck, the more portable, the better.
Anyhow, I just wanted to do a super quick post about how March is a month to pay attention. Time to get those birdhouses out and get ready. Spring is coming but winter may show its face one more time!
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!