Tomato Seedling Stages

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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.

Bumble Bee Cherry Mix Tomato on the left

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.

Outdoors late May hardening off the plants

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.

3-3.5″ Cell Trays

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.

Cathy Testa holding a 3.5″ seedling pot

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.

Good photo of the trays

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.

Upstate Oxheart Tomato seeds

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.

Oxheart in a Styrofoam Cup

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.

1 gallon Pots

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.

Empty Seedling Tray with the 3.5″ square cells, 32 cells per tray

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.

On Seedling Heat Mats

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.

Speedling Trays – The stage where the Cotyledon has emerged first

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.

5″ squares with peppers and tomato

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.

New Yorker tomatoe seedling on left

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!

What the seedling looks like when it first appears!

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.

Well, folks that’s it for today!

Thank you for visiting again!!

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

Holiday Gift Cards Available

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Just a reminder, my Holiday Gift Cards are available again this season, which are applicable to purchase unique custom plant gifts or for seasonal items such as my Seed Starter Kits, or starter plants (tomatoes/peppers) in the spring time. Or perhaps you would love to have someone pick a special unique seasonal gift using their gift cards such as my Succulent Topped Pumpkins in the fall season, or a fresh wreath, holiday kissing ball, or hanging holiday globe in December. And a custom unique container garden or patio pot in summer. The list goes on!

However, please note, my Gift Cards are no longer applicable to in-person workshops. I am not planning to offer workshops in person going forward, but gift cards are usable towards workshop kits or packages where you may do your own workshop with my supply kits and details. How-To Videos are offered for package purchases.

If interested, please email or text me at 860-977-9473. I am located in the Broad Brook section of East Windsor, CT.

To learn more, visit my WorkshopsCT.site and my galleries on Instagram under the handle of Container Crazy CT.

Thank you,
Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

The Transition Zone

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The start of November, as we await Thanksgiving Day, and move quickly into the Holiday mode, is what I feel is a transition zone.

I really don’t want to bombard people with what I will be offering for the holidays until a bit later in the month, but then again, many people plan ahead to decorate and get into the holiday spirit.

We also have a few days of decent weather coming up, so this is when we will wrap up our outdoor clean up for sure. For example, my husband is planning to clean up the gutters this weekend, and I will be removing last minute summer items into my garage or basement during the rest of this week between appointments and orders.

As far as transitioning, the following are some items I’ve been doing:

Updating my Galleries on SmugMug. Been creating a Holiday Folder to show custom orders and my holiday greens coming up.

Updating my 3 sites to be more current. Yes, I have 3. It is a long story but each is dedicated to my service offerings: WorkshopsCT.com, ContainerGardensCT.com, and this blog site, ContainerCrazyCT.com.

Ordering supplies for my upcoming custom holiday wreaths, kissing balls, and loose greens orders. Taking inventory, writing instructional documents, and more.

Taking any last minute orders – still – for handmade Succulent Topped Pumpkins which make beautiful centerpieces for the Thanksgiving decor and your table!

Making hanging succulent filled glass globes to add to the autumn decor for custom orders. Making terrariums with succulents and fall decor too.

Checking my greenhouse daily to ensure all systems are working property, looking over the plants moved in and making sure none have issues. Making sure the heat is working and all that jazz.

Cleaning the house! Yes, part of my fall transition zone. I’m so busy in spring with plants of course that I never have time to do the big clean in spring. It tends to happen in the fall or early winter.

Trying to decide on the Thanksgiving dinner plans. I think it will be just me and my honey this year, and that is the week I start making wreaths and kissing balls, so just as well be home. Just too risky to do large gatherings due to the COVID rises across our country.

Sorting my holiday home decor and donating the old or unneeded to free Facebook pages in my town.

And finally, taking walks in the brisk cool air as much as possible before it gets too cold out there – but then again, that just reminds me – get those snowshoes out so when it is colder, I can transition to that!

Happy Wednesday everyone. Hope you are okay while we wait to hear the results of the election, and transition through whatever they may be!

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

Overwintering my Alocasia Plants

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There are many tender tropical plants which I overwinter each year around this time of year in October. They are either dug up and packed up in a cool, dry, frost free place, moved into my home as a houseplant, or moved into my low-temperature greenhouse for the winter.

Today, I will share how I overwinter my newest favorite tropical plant, Alocasia macrorrhiza or Alocasia macrorrhizos (Jumbo Upright Elephant Ears).

Here is a photo of me standing by it around mid-September 2020. It is quite tall and an impressive specimen showcasing dark green huge leaves, big enough to serve as a patio umbrella.

Cathy Testa standing next to her Jumbo Upright Elephant Ears plants in 2020

Each leaf reached just slightly over 3 feet long from tip to the start of its rigid stalks, which were also 3 feet long. Thus, the plant towered over us at 6 feet tall total. The width of the leaves reached about 2-2.5 feet across.

Measuring the leaf after it was removed in the fall from the planter

This plant is not winter hardy here in Connecticut, so it must be removed from the planter to store the tubers (or rhizomes) for the winter. This may be done after the plants get touched by a light frost (which will damage the leaves and make them turn yellow) or immediately after a hard frost (which will completely kill the top parts of the plants and its foliage.)

I prefer to move them in before frost for two reasons: (1) It is not cold out and easier to work with the plants. And (2), sometimes if you leave the tubers in the soil too long, when they get cold and wet this time of year, rot may actually start on the tuber before you dig them out. The tuber will be soft if any rot has started. BTW, the tuber is referred to as a rhizome as well. For the sake of this post, I will use the term “tuber.”

Cathy Testa holding a leaf from the Jumbo Upright Elephant Ears plant in October 2020

While working this weekend to continue my overwintering chores, I asked my husband to take a photo of me with a single leaf to show the shear size of this dramatic foliage plant. I obtained the tubers in 2019. That year, the plant grew more clumps of leaves, but this year, in 2020, the plant grew much taller stalks and bigger leaves. I always tell my followers and customers, the bigger the bulb, the bigger the plant.

This planter going into my greenhouse

If the plant in your container or patio pot is small enough, you may bring it into your home for the winter, or even into a greenhouse. However, I typically choose to store them by digging up the tubers, after cutting off all the foliage, and storing them in my basement, which is unheated but does not freeze.

The location is key. You need to consider the place you are putting them. A cold closet in the home may work. You need to experiment the first time you do this and hope for the best. A garage (unless it is attached and gains some heat from the house), does not work. The tubers would freeze and die.

Okay, here are my steps:

(1) Chop off all the foliage. You may use either a sharp long kitchen knife or a machete, which I often use the machete when it is a very thick stalk or stump. Just be sure your tools are clean to not transmit any disease or insect problems. I usually start with removing each leaf stalk individually, then cut across the whole stump area if it happens to be large.

(2) Dig out the bottom part with the tuber from the soil. Do this by digging around the plant with your shovel or garden trowel and pushing down around in a circle. You should hear the roots snapping as you are cutting them during this process. Then lift the whole clump together out of the soil. Try to be sure you are not breaking the tuber below the stump area.

(3) Lay the bottom parts in the sun. The bottom part of the plant will either have a visible tuber, or not. Either way, lay them in the sun for a minimum of one day to dry (and/or cure, as they say). Sometimes, I let them sit in the sun for a few days but do not leave them out if you get a hard frost after digging them out. If the bottom piece you dug out is thick and fleshy, turn it upside down to allow the excess water to drain out. These plants hold lots of water. You may gently brush away any excess soil or use a garden hose to blast off the soil, but sometimes I prefer not to add any more moisture to them if I can help it.

Lay the tubers out in the sun

(4) Snip off any long roots. Notice in this next photo how long the roots reached. Because the soil was fluffy and dry in my planters, I actually pulled the roots out of the soil because I wanted to see how long they were. They almost reached the bottom of the gray tall planters. The reason I snip off the roots is to eliminate as much fleshy material from the pieces. Fleshy, wet materials may rot in the storage box.

Showing the root lengths

(5) Put the stumps (for lack of a better word) and or tubers into a storage box and cover it with peat moss. Sphagnum peat moss may be purchased in large square bales or in bags in smaller amounts. It is a natural and organic ingredient that absorbs moisture and aerates around the tubers in the box. Pour some of the peat moss in the box in the base, lay the tubers and stumps on it, and then pour dry peat moss over and around them. Do not over do this. You are only lightly covering them with the peat moss. BTW, the peat moss is reusable every year. It lasts a very long time.

(6) Place the box in a cool, dark, dry location that doesn’t get below freezing and is somewhat unheated. Such as my basement. If placing the box on a concrete floor, place a tray or something to elevate it a bit off the floor because as that floor gets cold in the winter, it may create condensation in the storage box. My basement does get some woodstove heat from time to time, but the woodstove is way at the opposite end of the basement from where I store my overwintering boxes. And the woodstove is not used all winter, just on some nights. So the area where I put all my overwintered plants in boxes stays colder. It has become my sweet spot for this process. It is okay to stack your boxes on top of each other. I use plastic bin type boxes with a lid. Do not use clear plastic boxes, use those that will eliminate any light. Sometimes I have drilled holes into the lids to allow some air to enter. The tubers tend to stay dry but just slightly moist by the peat around it – but not wet. Do not store them in a very wet state. This will lead to rot. If your basement is too hot and dry, they will dry up and shrivel and may just rot away to a dry state which is not usable. If your basement is super cold, the tubers might freeze and die.

(7) Label the box with a sharpie marker, date it, and note what you stored so you will remember in the spring. If the tubers make it, you may recognize them, but if they don’t, you will be wondering what you stored, at least I have, because I store many types of container garden plants over the winter months.

An Alocasia in a large pot

You have other storing or moving options as well. You could just move the pot with the plant into your basement and hope for the best, but you may not have the space, or the muscle power to move a big pot. And usually a big pot is too big for a home. But that is another option to mention. If you move the entire pot with the plant into your basement, you will need to monitor it for insects and add water to the plant, but at a very minimal fashion. You are not watering it like you would during the summer season.

Left – See the Tuber?

In this above photo, the tuber on the left is covered in brown papery like material, which you leave on there. However, on the photo on the right, you really only see a stump. Storing either works for me.

This storing process allows the plant to go into a dormant state. They will not grow in the dark boxes and will usually do fine. When spring returns, you may bring them out of the darkness by starting them in smaller pots inside the home to awaken them. They should not be planted outdoors in your patio pots or container gardens again until all chances of spring frost has passed. These tender bulbs will bring back repeat performance year after year by following my steps above.

If you found this post helpful, please comment below or share my site with others.

Thank you.

Cathy Testa
Owner of Container Crazy CT
Broad Brook, CT 06016
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
Other sites: www.WORKSHOPSCT.com and www.ContainerGardensCT.com
Container Garden Designer, Plant Lover
and a little “Crazy” about plantings in containers!

Currently taking orders for custom Succulent Topped Pumpkins. They are created with live succulent plants, fall or Halloween decor, and are amazing on real pumpkins. They are low maintenance, easy care, and last for months. Porch Pick-ups and some deliveries arranged. Inquire for current prices. 860-977-9473 texts are welcome.