Four things I love enjoying during the summer are: kayaking, tomatoes, fishing, and nature. They seemed to go hand in hand this summer as we took off on our adventures.
We usually don’t take vacations in early June, but did this year, primarily because the COVID world cancelled our prior trips of 2020. We have been fishing and kayaking here and there.
I thought I’d share just a couple photos of things I did during some “me time,” in between tending to plants and my container gardens.
First, I absolutely love kayaking. It connects me with nature and the sounds of nature. We were fortunate to be invited to kayak with friends on a tidal fed river. It was so serene. I love being below the huge marsh grasses, following the path, and seeing the birds along the way.
The birds are usually around the corner and stand there watching us float by. I like the fact they are not too afraid of us, unless you get super close, then they fly off. We got off at points where the water was low enough to walk on very soft mud and sand. It kind of felt like a mud foot massage!
Fishing…Well, what do I know about fishing? Not much, I’m an amateur, but I enjoy casting out over and over again. It is so relaxing. As a kid, I would fish outback behind my parents property on the Scantic River. Yes, I did hunt for worms at night with a flashlight with my brother in those days, but worms – yuck. I stick to fishing lures now. For 2 years, I caught absolutely nothing but this year, I’ve been lucky a few times and caught largemouth bass fishing from my kayak. In this photo, we went to a pier before kayaking for the day, and I didn’t catch anything but fresh air and sunshine, and enjoyed every moment.
Is this the most amazing tomato cage setup you’ve ever seen?! I love it – our friend built this for his tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. I’m in awe of it also because of the scenery behind it. Can you imagine?
We also kayaked by North Myrtle at a location called Cherry Grove. It was with a tour group and this gave us a wonderful introduction to this area. Again, despite hearing a golf course lawn mower on part of the path, it was absolutely beautiful, calm, and relaxing. I especially like when we come upon wild life, turtles, birds, and an occasional fish jumping out of the water.
And here on am on the 4th of July weekend, which was mostly wet and raining. I was doing my best to try to convince myself rain does not matter, let the festivities continue. It has been very wet for my tomatoes this year in Connecticut, they were growing perfectly, but the soil has gotten water logged, yet they have many green tomatoes on them, but I am waiting to see how the ripening process will go this summer. In the meantime, I just keep trying to enjoy moments in the summer. I hope you are too.
Last year, I sowed some sacred basil seeds for the first time. It is also known as Tulsi or Holy basil. Latin name: Ocimum tenuiflorum (Ocimum sanctum). I thought it would be an interesting plant to offer my clients for their herb gardens. However, I discovered not too many people of my circle of plant lovers were familiar with Tulsi basil. And neither was I.
What I discovered is it is a fast grower from seed. It wasn’t long before it would fill my pots or cell trays when I started them from seed. It also has an unusual fragrance, even when it is small and just sprouting from the soil in my seedling trays. The seed producer describes it as, “Pretty, heavenly-scented basil used in teas and Ayurveda.” The seed must be sown early indoors or may be directly sown into gardens.
Attracts Beneficial Insects
I did grow some on a balcony garden last season and it grew lovely and lush in a large pot. I also grew some in my containers at home around a couple tomato plants. Wow, I was stunned at how beautiful, large, and lush the plants grew. I also grew some in big pots on my driveway, and every single time I went by those plants while they were blooming, bees were visiting them constantly. I thought, hmmm, this is a good pollinator attractor. Also, herbs tend to attract beneficial insects, which also helps your garden. The blooms last a long time and the plant stands firm, upright, bushy, and full. I thought if I could I would line my driveway with them and let the bees go crazy enjoying those blooms.
The blooms remind me of catmint, a soft blue. I can’t find the darn photo of when it was lush and full on my driveway, but let me assure you, it grows tall and bushy. If you look up the plant online, you will see it in gardens and find many people describing it’s benefits as a tea. It is similar in growth to regular basil but it grows much faster, as I witnessed in my own pots. It has a strong flavor and scent. You may add it to your water but chewing it directly, I read at least on one site per my research, should not be done. It is that strong.
Dried for teas
Tulsi basil can be dried and saved for months. Something I wanted to do – but did I? No, cause I was too busy tending to plants. LOL. But bottom line, if not for teas, I think it makes a splendid container plant, garden plant (perhaps on a border), and is easy to grow. If you want a full, lush, tall plant in a container, this is the one. I think it was about 1.5 feet tall, if I remember correctly. And I could envision it as a big stand or as a border along a walkway, just covered with bees. It is a long-lasting plant as well, all the way into the fall, it performed wonderfully.
Basils are grown outdoors in hot weather and struggle if it is still cool spring outdoors. You should wait till all chances of frost have passed and when the temps are right for basils. Don’t rush this one outdoors in early spring. They prefer well-drained soils and full sun, and a little shade is okay too. I always plant various basils in my herb planters on my deck every year. I can’t tell you the amount of times I snip from it. It is heaven. Why not mix up your selection of basils and add Tulsi basil to it?
See the links posted below of the various health benefits and research about this plant. The last link has information on how to make the tea.
Well, that is my Tulsi talk for the day! I still have some seed packets available if interested, please let me know. Also, if you know of a really good site that shows how to use, prepare, and store this type of basil, I’d love to hear about it. I can not find much about it in my current herbal books in my home office.
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
My last post, before today’s post, was titled, March is a big sow month – well, to follow on from that, April is a BIG GROW Month.
I have many tomato seedlings started from seeds and growing now, and the more warmth, sun, and good days of April we get will increase their sizes over the next 3-4 or 5 weeks of indoor growing in the greenhouse before they are transitioned outdoors for a few hours to harden off and then ready by end of May.
End of May is my target date for planting the tomato starts in containers, because to me, it is the safest and warmest time. Memorial Day is the key date. And I truly can’t wait. I’m overly anxious this year, it was a long winter. I hated February, Ugh. Now it is April – yahooooo. That means weather will improve, we can be outdoors more, I’m cleaning up my perennials and shrubs outdoors, and I am checking on my starter plants daily, potting some up, all that jazz.
I spend time cleaning the greenhouse floors of debris, taking tables down to the greenhouse outdoor areas to prepare for when seedling will go outside for some real sunshine, and inspecting everything, but it is also still a waiting month. I so want to put all my nice tropical plants outdoors, but we can still get cold snaps. It requires patience. Sometimes I can’t take it – LOL.
This Connecticut weather is nutso sometimes. As we know, it snowed just last week. Yup on Friday. It melted fast – thank God. And tomorrow will be 70’s degrees, which will mean my greenhouse temps will rise fast tomorrow and I’ll be opening the side manual vent, and putting on small fans, etc. But then overnight, it can get cold just a couple days later. It is nutso! I know I said that already. LOL.
I still have not removed the bubble-wrap, which covers my auto-fan in the greenhouse up at the top on one wall, because I don’t want cold air to blow in on the cold snaps. I have to say, taking care of plants in a greenhouse, is a daily, if not minute by hour operation! Why they call it a “nursery.” And April is a big month of getting things growing more – as the warmer temps and more sunny and longer sun days improve.
April this month thru mid-May is a big grow month. I will little by little have more patience as I watch the seedlings grow larger and I pot them up. I can smell the tomato plants now when I’m in the greenhouse and brush against them. That familiar scent that says summer is coming.
In fact, the sun is out right now as I type this – so I have to keep this short cause I have a bunch of heirloom tomatoes I need to pot up today. They are ready for step two.
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!
I had a very nice afternoon seeing a friend I haven’t seen in a very long time due to, we all know, COVID! But yesterday, we finally met and she gave me a tour of her houseplants, asking various questions. Some of her plants in her home are traditional houseplants, some are succulents, and a few plants are in her basement for the overwintering phases of plants in our area of Connecticut.
Canna Lily Plant in the Basement
She actually wanted to show me how her Canna Lily plant in the basement, still in its pot, was pushing out new growth and also had a bloom starting on the tip of one stalk, no less, but the leaves of the plant were covered in brown spots. My initial question to her on that issue, was did she have any water dripping down on the plant’s leaves by chance? She said, no, no issues with that, however, her basement is probably on the moist side and the leaves were suffering. My immediate suggestion was to cut all the foliage off, especially since the base of the plant was showing a new shoot coming up from the rhizome below the soil, so she will get new growth on it as soon as we can place our pots back outside this year, around Memorial Day. Plus damaged or foliage with issues will only drain the plant’s energy, so it is always a good idea to cut off anything unsightly or bad on a plant if possible, always using clean, sterilized tools so you do not transmit any issues later when using those tools again.
Black Or Brown Spots with a Yellow Halo
I was curious, however, about the spots. When you see this photo, they are somewhat in a pattern. That led me to suspect it was more than just a bit of winter stress. There is something going on here. I thought, I will look it up in one of my many gardening or plant reference books when I’m back home.
I have many books on my shelves in my home office. Over the years, I’ve collected many but I have never really written about any of them here on this blog. Perhaps today is the day to start. One place which I’ve stopped in to get various books in the past is a small bookstore in Northampton, Massachusettes. I was just there about a week ago and popped in. They don’t have an extensive collection of plant related books, but I tend to always fine a “good one” in a little corner of the store, where a limited supply of plant related books are stocked. I think whomever picks them out has a good eye.
I prefer to review the books in person versus buying online because I kind of know right away if the book is a good fit for me. I’ve learned a great deal about plants over the years, and I’ve read lots of books to find answers, learn more, and for the pure enjoyment of reading about gardens and plants. Some books cover things I already know or are already in another book on my shelves, or maybe it is too complicated, but whatever the reason, I usually instinctively know if I will like it. And I did like this one.
How Not To Kill Your HouseplantBook
A book I picked up at that cute little bookstore a year or so ago during a prior visit is called, “How Not To Kill Your Houseplant” by Veronica Peerless. It is a small book, easily held in your hands, with a yellow hard cover. I remember I flipped through the pages and thought, hmm, this one is cute and decent. It has clear photos of the plant and goes over how not to kill it, best locations, light, watering and feeding recommendations, and care, etc. It has some information on common bugs and problems but it is not overly extensive or technical but just enough information to quickly find what you are looking for. It is also a visual type book, where photos lead you to what you may need to research.
So this morning, I pulled this little book out and immediately spotted the leaf spot in the book’s Plant Diseases section. Granted, Canna Lily plants are not technically houseplants. Out here, in our area of CT, I view them more as great tropical plants we put out in the summer months in container gardens or gardens. They are not winter hardy here. They grow tall, bloom summer into early fall, are easily stored by moving the pots into your basement as is, or by digging out the rhizomes from under the soil and storing those in boxes during our winter months. And I should note that some Canna Lily plants do suffer from various virus type of diseases, and some are not curable. In “some” cases, you may have to toss the whole plant.
Whole Pot of Canna Lily in the Basement
My friend, Linda, has the whole pot in the basement. The plant is pushing out new growth from the top of the soil, sensing the arrival of spring, and there is a window nearby too, so it did get a bit of light during the winter months. But, as I read the description of the Leaf Spot in the little book I picked up in Northampton, it said the problem is often caused by bacteria or fungi, which are more likely in damp conditions. Most basements are damp, so that made sense to me. Also, the fact each of the brown spots on her Canna Lily leaves had a “yellow halo” as described in the book leads me to believe it could be a Leaf Spot issue (or it could be a virus of the canna plant).
How to Treat Black Spot
My recommendation to Linda was to just cut it all down, stems and all, and it will regrow fresh growth when we move our plants outdoors in late May. Also, I suggested to her that if we get a spring tease day soon, put the pot outdoors for fresh air to allow the soil to dry out. But this may not solve the issue and she may need to treat it with a fungicide, which the book (or author, I should say) of the book recommends.
The book doesn’t specify any type of fungicide or particular brand. That is something you may want to ask your nursery person about when you go shopping this season, or when you order it online, be sure to read what the spray treats before clicking “add to cart.” However, Canna Lilies plants are easily dug out. Perhaps another route is to take the root ball out and pot it fresh in the summer. Without researching it further, I can’t say if a spray will fix it completely. It could be an incurable virus, and well, more research from my other plant books is required to make a more thorough assessment.
Other Plant Problems are Featured
Again, one of the reasons I enjoyed this little handy book, I think is partially their photos and images are well done. It shows other houseplant diseases such as, gray mold (Botrytis), Crown and Stem Rot, Powdery Mildew, Oedema, Sooty Mold, and Root Rot. Ack, those all sound horrible, don’t they? And of course, it shows the Leaf Spot issue discussed above. But a photo or diagram of each is depicted in this book.
Nice Visual Aid
This book is a nice simple visual aid. In the front, rather than your typical table of contents, are photos of each plant featured in the book with the page number and plant name. So, if you are unfamiliar with technical or botanical names of plants, you may easily recognize your houseplant from the photo, and then flip to that page.
Sometimes, I never get to read a plant book in it entirety. However, I super enjoy those days when I can sit in my greenhouse with a plant or gardening related book from my stock and flip through to read it or review sections of it. I recommended this book to my friend because I saw many of the houseplants she has in her home in this little book and thought this will be a handy reference for her.
BTW, I get no monetary payback from anything I post on this blog, so the book review is just my humble opinion. My payback is being able to help a friend with their plant questions. Feel free to ask me anytime and if I don’t know the answer, I will try to look it up for you.
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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Genovese basil was the number one type of basil requested of the several types of basil I offered last year. This herb plant is a typical deep green color and it grows medium-to-large sized leaves. You may directly sow basil seeds into your gardens or you may start them in seedling flats, small pots, or whatever type of container you prefer, and then move them outdoors when it is warm enough, usually late May or early June. The time to start the Genovese basil seeds indoors in my area of Connecticut is 2-4 weeks before our last frost date, then you may transplant them after the frost period and this is usually done when outdoor temperatures are about the same as when you would plant your warm season tomato starter plants.
Basils do not tolerate frost or cold temps
Basil plants like to grow in hot weather and will not tolerate light frosts. So do not tempt growing them too early and putting them outdoors until it is hot outdoors. All you really need is a sunny area outdoors, or a sunny window indoors that stays warm, and it will be okay. It prefers areas that are full sun or full sun with some light shade at different parts of the day. I usually have two or three pots outdoors with my seed grown basil plants on my deck in a south-east location. I could not endure not having some of the freshly picked Genovese basil leaves because the leaves are full of flavor. And you may harvest the leaves all season long by cutting stems just above new leaf growth or cutting leaves individually off the plant. You may also sow basil seeds repeatedly in the summer in intervals all the way till before our temperatures start to cool down. Once it is cool outdoors, the plants do not perform well.
It is the perfect pesto basil
However, the great news is Genovese basil is the perfect type to make pesto. The pesto may be frozen to be used all winter long. The rewards are great. And as mentioned, laying a few of the big leaves on slices of fresh tomatoes is heaven in the summer months. Especially if you have some fresh mozzarella to lay on top for making a fresh, juicy, delicious, and favorable basil topped sandwich. I also enjoy chopping up the leaves to toss fresh with cut up tomatoes and garlic, olive oil and pasta. This is why I got more basil seed packets this year to sow my own and sow some as transplants for my friends, clients, and whomever is interested.
Scatter the seeds
When you buy a packet of basil seeds, there are plenty of tiny seeds in the packet. Sometimes up to 250 seeds. Usually I scatter some of the seeds from the packet onto seedling or potting mix in medium to smaller sized pots or into my cell seedling tray flats of 2-3″ pots. I am always sure to not get anxious to start basil seeds too early because, again, they like the heat. If you start too early and it is not warm enough, they will just fail. Basil is very sensitive to cold. If you have a sunny warm spot in the home, they may do fine but just remember, they don’t like the cold, so don’t get too anxious to start them. Usually a month before our enjoyable outdoor temperatures is a good time to start them. And if grown indoors, they will need light. If none is available in your home, a grow light is recommended.
I always grow basil in pots and not in the ground. As you may or may not know, I do all my gardening in containers, and thus that is why this site is called Container Crazy CT. And basil is a perfect candidate for container gardening. The plants will grow well all season long and I rarely have any issues from bugs or diseases when I grow basil in patio pots outdoors in the summer. In fact, I grew some basil from seed to put in container gardens on a high-rise balcony last season for a client. I was extremely pleased with the outcome. The plants loved the heat, sun, and thrived at a roof top level garden. I was super proud of how well the Genovese basil grew in this scenario.
Basil planter on a roof top
In fact, by the end of the summer season, just before I was ready to install their fall gardens, the basil plants were absolutely gorgeous, full, tall, and still very much usable. I harvested all the stems of the basil plants and put them in vases for my clients to continue to use as long as possible. Here is a photo of how they looked later in the season below. My eyes bugged out of my head when I saw how wonderfully they had grown. Due to the heat, sun, and good breezes as well as consistent watering by my clients, these plants were just stunning and large – and healthy. As you can imagine, it is very warm on a roof top thus, a testament to how much the basil plants thrived in a hot location.
But you don’t need a high rise roof top style area to enjoy growing basils in containers or patio pots! You only need warmth, sun, and nice starter plants from seed if desired. Usually I plant my Genovese basil at my home in various pots of various sizes. Some are as big as 22-25″ diameter round pots, or I’ve grown them in long styled window boxes, and square terracotta containers of about 8-10″ square. They do well in any pot with sufficient drainage holes, good quality potting mix that is well draining, and if you water appropriately. In the garden, slugs may find your basil plants, but that doesn’t happen in my patio pots and containers because they are elevated from the ground usually. I find basil is an easy care container plant.
Keep the soil fairly moist
You must keep the soil fairly moist when you grow basil in containers, and bear in mind that soil will dry out faster usually in container gardens versus in the ground. And you should use potting mix (not dirt from the ground) in containers and patio pots. But nothing beats having the plants handy when you want to make up a quick dinner. As I mentioned, it is so super easy to toss cut up Genovese basil leaves with pasta. In the photo above is the point when the basil was probably getting ready to flower before the end of summer. You should harvest the leaves before this stage, or be sure to continuously cut stems and leaves in summer, otherwise the plant will produce flowers and go to seed.
One time I was carrying a tray of basil plants I grew from seed with a tray of succulent plants, Aeoniums, and I noticed how the green colors looked pretty again the dark colored succulent rosettes, so I snapped a spontaneous picture. Of course, these two plants don’t “go together” but I thought it was rather neat for the eyes.
In summary, if you want to grow your own Genovese basil plants, I have seed packets available and provide step by step instructions, sowing calendars, and tips along the way. I can’t imagine not having these amazing herb plants every summer to harvest from, as I love them so much. I will be growing them this season again. It is a must have in any kitchen garden. I would say it is an essential herb if you want to enjoy a true summer of fresh! Remember the basics: warmth, sunny spot, and harvest regularly. Let me know if you are interested in my seeds or seed sowing kits.
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!