Finding the Bright Spots

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I was getting a little depressed the past couple days, I think because I started to worry about my husband still going to work. His company is considered essential, but to be honest, I want him to stay put at home and work remotely. Who wouldn’t want that?

Obviously, my worrisome feelings are because of those lurking fears of COVID-19 risks, but the other part is he is my only family member outside of me in our home! I am used to being at home alone, working here, and staying busy, but the pandemic made me feel a bit too alone. I’m sure many may relate to this feeling.

However, I had quite a few bright spots in the past week or so while I dealt with the emotional ups and downs of this challenge we are all facing. I’m up when I am in my greenhouse, for example, sowing seeds, but I get down real quick when I see the news and start to worry about loved-ones. And although I’m somewhat safe here at home, there are so many who are not safe, who have to face the danger every single day. I can’t imagine what their ups and downs feel like today.

I guess, from what I’ve read, it is important to focus on the bright spots right now when we can. Here are some of mine:

Bright Spot #1 – A thank you letter in the mail

I don’t always pick up our mail myself. My husband does it every day when he arrives at the end of our long driveway from work. He hops out of his car to get the mail and our newspapers, but yesterday, I walked to the mailbox to put an envelope in there to return a prepayment check for a workshop I was hired to do for a prep school in May. Of course, the May session has been cancelled. No worries, that is okay. On the way back from the mailbox, however, as I sifted thru my mail pile, I saw a card in the stack. It was from Garden Media Group. It stopped me in my tracks.

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The Thank You Card

I attended a presentation by the owner and founder of Garden Media Group, Suzi McCoy, many years ago at UCONN. I was just starting my own small plant related business at that time, and her speech made an impact on me. I could write a whole page on why, let’s just say, she knows marketing, especially plant related marketing. Everything she stated during that presentation spoke to me. It had a lot to do about the “new” Facebook world and how to market there, and what not to do on social media as well. Also, she included a whole presentation on TRENDS in the gardening world for that particular year. If you do a google search on Garden Media Group, you may see this about her company:

Today Garden Media is one of the top 10 public relations firms in the Philadelphia region and the top marketing communications and PR firm in the lawn and garden industry. We know this industry inside and out, and people know us, from the top media to garden center owners to horticultural breeders.

I’ve read every single one of Garden Media’s annual gardening trends reports since attending that talk years ago. I find marketing in general fascinating but even more exciting when it is related to plants of course. Sometimes, to be honest, I felt I was a trend-setter because some of the things I offered related to plants would be in that report. Other times, the trends report tuned me in to what is on the rise. It was always on the mark, I’ll say that – in my opinion.

Recently, it was announced Suzi McCoy was retiring and her daughter is taking over the company. Right at that moment, I decided to type Suzi McCoy a letter and tell her how her presentation that day spoke to me and how I followed her advice in her company’s newsletters and trend reports ever since. Me, being a very small solo business, with very little mentors of my own, she was a mentor from afar but she didn’t know it. I let her know this. This letter was sent to her at least a month or more ago.

When I was reading her handwritten thank you card in my driveway at the base of the hill yesterday, half way back up to my house, the sun was shining on me and I thought, wow, one of my garden heroes wrote me back. I stopped in my driveway to read it completely. It was one of those letters you can’t wait to open till you get inside the house. She said she saved my letter to her. She also said that she was flabbergasted, as one never knows how or when they can make a difference in someone’s life. To get her thank you in return for my letter to her, which I didn’t anticipate or expect at all, right now during COVID-19, made it extra special to me. Her letter and the timing was a bright spot.

Bright Spot #2 – My nephew face-timed me

My young nephew is stuck at home now due to school closings, so I’m sure he was searching to play with his new messaging app, which is monitored by his parents, but I was pleased he face-timed me this past weekend. It was a bright spot for sure as it was a surprise as well. While talking to him, I walked myself and my phone to the greenhouse to show him all the seed trays I’ve sown, and he replied with, “Wow!” Then he told me I was breaking up due to a low connection, and I told him, “Oh yes, that happens when I’m in my greenhouse.” Anyhow, after that, I showed him a view of his Uncle Steve chainsawing wood. This got him all excited. That was a bright spot.

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Bagged Seed Sowing Kits 

Bright Spot #3 – Seed Sowing Kits

First of all, I sold seed starting kits to about 15 people when the presentation I was going to do at a market was cancelled (due to COVID-19). I want to say thank you to those who purchased the kits from me. I finally packed up the remaining kits I had pre-assembled for the market because I realize we should not be risking social contact anymore. But a bright spot was hearing how happy people were who got the kits and sowed their seeds at home. They got a bit of “excitement” knowing that they had something to look forward to – seeds germinating and sprouting above the soil!

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Sealed Seed Packets for Mailing

You see, it makes ME happy when others are happy about plants. I even had a friend of a friend ask me to mail him a few seed packets, and I did. Along with sending him my instructional PDFs to show all on how to sow the seeds. As you can see, I’m a wordy girl, so they get lots of PDF details along with their seeds and/or kits. And I gave a seed sowing kit to a friend’s mother who is dealing with throat cancer. She sent me a message to say thank you. That was a bright spot.

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The Tiny Bright Spot making a Big Impact

Bright Spot #4 – Seeds Actually Sprouting

I’ve been doing some Facebook Lives from my private workshops page for my regulars on how to sow seeds, what to do, how to watch over your seedlings, how to transplant them and what have you when it comes to sowing tomato and pepper seeds. And this did and does make me happy – very happy in fact, especially last week on the sunny days. It gave me a focus and people are at home anyways, so how perfect is it to share what I can with them?

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Bumble Bee is on the left, Fox Cherry on the Right

But as noted above, I started to get the blues real fast this week. I felt the blahs. Then I walked into my greenhouse yesterday, and saw my Bumble Bee Mix Cherry Tomato seeds are starting to sprout. And when I say sprout, I mean the tiniest tinniest baby sprout. This thing, this tiny thing, made me smile. Why? It is just a seed, after all. Because it shows renewal, growth, future, success, and I don’t know – I’m a plant freak, is why! Nature has always amazed me. Even from childhood. I often looked at nature and pondered it. Nature and plants are my savior right now. I’m not just saying that. Plants are my bright spot. And eating those yummy cherry tomatoes this summer will be even more appreciated than normal.

Bright Spot #5 – Hubby working from home today

He is working remotely today. He handed me a cup of coffee as I was typing this. He made his typical jokes the way he always does. He is an eternal optimist. But his work is considered essential and not on the stay at home list, so I know he will have to go back in to do some rotating duties at the office. But for now, I will soak up this bright spot and feel a bit of relief. Hopefully the next bright spot on my list will be scoring TP today, because I have to go out and get some. Wish me luck!

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

P.S. I received another bright spot this morning. A text from a client, showing me the new containers I will be planting this spring for her! 🙂

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Me, Cathy T, last spring. Looking forward to more bright spots to come!

 

 

Seeds and Such – In Container Gardens

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Good morning friends,

As noted in my prior blog post – I will be offering a Facebook Live on growing edible plants from seeds in container gardens and patio pots.

The date of the Facebook Live broadcast is March 21st, Wednesday, 10:30 am EST. Just check into Container Crazy CT on my Facebook page to locate the feed.

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Edamame Soybeans in Pots – YES!!! You will be amazed at how many you get.

Couple Updates – I will have SEEDS available!

I will have a limited supply of seeds by a company which I find offers excellent quality (will review the seed company at the live session).

By this I mean, they germinate very well, have a very interesting mix of varieties which I find are unique and flavorful (and often you can’t find these varieties in stores), and also, many are selected because they are perfect for container gardens and patio pots.

Some examples are: Kale, Radishes, Spinach, Cherry Tomatoes, Tomatoes, Basil, Oregano, Lettuces, Hot Peppers, Carrots, Edamame Soybeans, Cucumbers, and a few flowers too.

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Tomatoes in Containers – they were amazing last year – can’t wait to taste them again

RESERVING A SEED PACKET

If you think you would like to reserve a pack before or after my Facebook Live, please fill out the contact form below for a list and prices. (Note: For pickup’s only from me in Broad Brook, CT; no mailings).

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All Grown From Seeds – Container Gardens Filled with Edibles

Free Handouts

Also, if you wish to obtain the free handouts prior to view as I talk “Seeds and Such” at the Facebook Live, please fill out the contact form on www.WORKSHOPSCT.com.

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Yummy! Basil in Window Boxes.

Other Quickies – BERT’S BIRD HOUSES

I, once again, have many birdhouses available, made by my father, an old avid farmer (sorry, Dad, you are not old). He is healthier than me – not kidding – he never stops moving.

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Soon, he will be busy in the garden, but in winter, he makes these adorable hand-painted bird houses. They are made with reclaimed wood. He has MANY colors available.

If interested, contact me (see below). (Note: For pickup’s only from me in Broad Brook, CT; no mailings). Prices range from $18-$25.

Remember, the birds are looking right now for their nesting homes.

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
Broad Brook, CT
Zone 6a

CONTACT FORM – SEEDS OR BIRD HOUSES

 

Starting Seeds – A Few Tips

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Seed Starting

I was asked by a farmer’s market recently if I would like to teach a class on seed starting, but since it is not my “specialty” (not yet anyways), I turned down the offer, but I do play around with seeds this time of year. It is a great way to feel the plant scene around you before we are able to put plants outside.

Seed starting is fairly simple, but some things can go wrong. Before you get discouraged, remember that sometimes (although this doesn’t happen often), seeds can be bad, especially if you purchased them at a store where they were ridiculously cheap and perhaps very old or were damaged which caused deterioration of the seeds.

Another reason for failure is using the wrong kind of soil mix. Seedling mix is very fine and should be used. But, with that said, I’ve been using coconut coir to start seeds as well, and it is going along well.

Results of my coir tests will be discussed at my first free container gardening talk at the end of the month on March 26th, Saturday, at our local book store on Main Street in Broad Brook and at my workshops this season.

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Peat Based Potting Mix on Left. Coconut Coir Mix on Right.

Seed Trays

3-in pots, seed pans, or small plastic seed trays may be used to start your seeds, or any container that has good drainage holes. Grocery store items like plastic containers previously containing cherry tomatoes are fun to use, especially because many have air holes in the covers attached, serving as a mini greenhouse. They are fun for kids, and may be used for tiny seeds projects and then transplanted. For other seed starting projects, I use large Styrofoam seedling trays with many partitions or cells which are not detachable. They are reusable year after year and long lasting. Look for them by the name of “Speedling” trays; they are great if doing many seeds at a time. You need a tool to remove the seedlings from each cell however. And of course, there are many kits available for seed starting which include a catch tray and clear plastic covering.

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Grocery Store Containers – Fun – Good Idea for Kids!

Sprinkle or Scatter Method

My favorite method of sowing seeds is sprinkling them on top of the soil seedling mix in hanging baskets or medium to large sized pots depending on the seed/plant type. And then taking some of the soil mix in my hands and very gently sprinkling it over the top to lightly and thinly cover the seeds. This has worked out nicely for for plants like lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, kale, parsley, and basil – and it is so easy. Remember, to sprinkle the seeds as uniformly as you can, as to not over crowd the seeds, but you don’t have to over think it with the leafy vegetable types.

I will start larger sized seeds in small 2-3” pots. I’m giving it a go with Canna seeds this spring, which are as hard as marbles (see black seeds in photo below). I collected some from a plant outdoors last October. They are tricky to get going though. They must be soaked 24 hours (and some references indicate to boil the water), or scratched so water may enter their very hard seed coats. Now, imagine me trying to file seeds the size of jelly beans with a filing tool from my husband’s garage. It was not easy as they kept popping out of my fingertips like black bullets. Sand paper is another way to accomplish this process, known as scarification. We will see if my seeds germinate. If they do – I will jump for joy.

Castor bean seeds are another type I collected last fall. They are large sized, similar to kidney beans. I collected the prickly pods from my plants. Each pod contains 4 seeds, but I discovered as I opened them up, the seeds caved into themselves and were not viable. They became overly dry somehow and there was nothing to them. I collected seeds from some of my perennials too. I test them out to see how well they do, and take it from there. And, by the way, I re-purpose prescription pill bottles to store my seeds over the winter.

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Soaking Canna Seeds (Left Photo). Castor Bean Seeds (Right Photo).

To moisten the seed mixture after the seeds have been sown, I always make sure to use a very gentle watering can to shower it softly, and tend to move the watering can back and forth over the soil mixture. A mister bottle is another method for moistening the soil mix. Just be careful to not pour water from a fully open spout because light mix will float or move the seeds about, disturbing them.

Labeling

I label all, no matter what is used, because I will be sure to forget later. My favorite labels are white plastic, waterproof, and easily written on with a sharpie. I take a second step of noting the type of seeds sown on a calendar which I keep in my grow room. It helps to refer back if they don’t come up in a few weeks and determine how many days have gone by.

Covering

Your seeds will germinate faster if you cover the top of the pot or trays with a clear tray, or use those types of trays which come with a clear cover. It definitely helps to keep the mixture evenly moist – but you have to watch for when the seedlings start to shoot up and touch the top of the cover. If there is lots of condensation on the top cover, tilt it to the side to allow air in or remove excess water from the cover, or take it off completely for a couple hours. When condensation hits the tender new leaves (baby leaves known as cotyledons), this can rot them so it is good to keep watch over the trays from time to time as they germinate and begin growing.

Temperature

Seeds require warm temperatures – at least 65 degrees F to germinate. The tender types need even more warmth so if you are trying to start seeds in a cold room, and they don’t come up – this is another potential reason why – if it is not warm enough, you may require a heat mat to place under your seed trays. A friend gave me one, and it gently warms up the trays of soil. Some people will place their seed trays on the top of heating units in their home if they have the style to do so – and this can work as a heat mat. Either way, warmer soil definitely gets them going faster. The mats are easy to plug into an outlet and use. Search for them online.

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Swiss Chard pulled from a pot – Was growing over the winter months.

Timing 

Always look at the seed packages for the weeks or days needed til germination and work backwards on your calendar. This is what I did with my Canna seeds. I wrote down the date I wanted to get them started with hopes they will be ready by spring time. If your seeds are not coming up, take a look at the time required (days until germination) on your seed packets, and if it is a challenging seed, it is worth to wait a bit longer if you don’t see them come up – you may find they are late bloomers (no pun intended). But one thing is for sure, there is something super rewarding when you see them come up from the soil to greet you.

Pricking Out

This is a real term used in horticulture. When you see the first two to four seed leaves appearing on each, they are ready to be moved (or pricked) out. Transfer the seedlings to small pots with multi-purpose mix. This does not have to be done with seedlings like lettuce in hanging baskets. The leafy vegetables continue to grow great in pots. I love doing Swiss chard in medium to large sized pots. They grow so beautifully and full that sometimes I don’t want to harvest them. Smaller sized window boxes are another type I use to start seeds for lettuce and herbs. Mix lettuce packages are lovely to look at and eat.

Grow Lights

Seeds need water, light (but not strong sun), air and warm temperature to germinate. If you do not have a well-lit area, many people will purchase grow light systems. After you transplant your new seedlings to bigger pots, do not put them into harsh full sun, because that can be too hard on them. They should be protected from direct sun. I sometimes use shade cloth around my new seedlings. And remember, all new plants require hardening off. Transition them carefully and good luck!

For a version of this post in a Newsletter format, click this link:

Spring 2016 Newsletter

Upcoming Workshops

We are excited for the upcoming workshops planned. Two dates are available for the May workshops on Container Gardening featuring edible plants – and of course, all the showy tropicals and exotics we include each season. Sign-up’s have begun, so don’t delay!

Note: Strong Family Farm is hosting one of our workshops – They are located in Vernon, CT on West St. If you can’t make Workshop No 1 on May 14th in Broad Brook, the Strong’s session will be an excellent option, and you may visit the farm’s large pen filled with chickens too. It’s a great farm with lots of activity happening every year.

Registration is available online via our new sister blog site: www.WORKSHOPSCT.com.

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

Happy St. Patty’s Day!

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Happy St. Patty’s Day (Containers Dressed Up for a Business Client – Couple Seasons Ago!)