Sunday, April 16, 2006

What's Growin' On: 4/16/06

This Photo Makes Me See Red

Realization Of The Day #2:
I have Garden Vision. When I am in my garden, what I look at and what I see are often not one in the same. Take the photo above for example. I do not see 11 itty bitty tomato plants that may or may not survive all that Mother Nature is going to throw at them. I see pounds and pounds of ruby red bounty just ripe for the plucking, plates of sliced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and vinegar and dusted with salt, a bustling, steamy kitchen in the middle of shrinking down summer--even next winter's pizzas being slid onto a hot baking stone. But would anyone else? Who cares. I know what's coming. I know what I see. I have the vision.

San Marzano Tomato Plants Ripe For Planting
Click here to see how much they grew in just 10 days. That's the Magic Of Manure Tea, I tell you.

Time To Say Tomato:
Despite two new baby lambs and an unexpected little rainstorm yesterday (all welcome diversions), I did manage to put 11 ecstatic San Marzano tomato plants (started from seeds I saved from my best 2005 tomatoes) into a raised bed. Well, I know that I was ecstatic at least. In fact, I was so excited about just getting some tomato plants into the ground that I completely forgot about hardening them off. That's right. My spoiled seedlings went straight from greenhouse to garden. Talk about a culture shock. Ten minutes in the ground and they were already starting to wilt. Oops. At least I buried them up to their little necks--and there were only three hours left until sunset.

Quick Tomato Planting Primer:
So in a perfect garden, this is what happens. First you harden off your plants. This simply means setting them outside for progressively longer and longer periods each day (starting with only an hour or two) so that they can begin to experience the harshness of life in the great outdoors--sun, wind, rain, little bugs, big marauding dogs and cats.

When you are ready to transplant, do it on a cloudy, fertile day in the third quarter (April 19th & 20th this month). There are two schools of thought on fourth quarter gardening. Some believe that it is a bad time to do pretty much anything but weed or mulch. Others treat it the same as the third quarter. (Fertile fourth quarter days this month are April 24th and 25th). And then there are those of us who wish we'd never learned about this minding the moonsigns business because now we're completely paranoid about doing something on the wrong day. (I know, I know. I promised to explain more about it. Soon. But I'm warning you--you probably don't really want to know.) If cloudy weather is not in the forecast (yes, that's sun shining brightly on my plants in the photo), wait until late afternoon so they'll at least have all night to settle in.

As I mentioned in a previous post, you then need to put your faith in me and pinch off all but top two or three leaves of each plant.

That means that your plants are going to go from looking like this

to this. But roots will shoot out of each of the pinched parts, and this will make your little plants strong and happy.

Then you carefully place each plant into a hole in which you have sprinkled 1 teaspoon of epsom salts (NOT table salt; find it in a bag or carton in the pharmacy section). There is a scientific reason for doing this, but I don't remember what it is. I promise you it helps, though.

Water each of the seedlings very well, and cover them with something (a cloche, a floating row cover, an old bedsheet, a bucket) if overnight temperatures are expected to go below 50F. Then stand back, take a look, and see what you can see--and pray to the garden gods if you're into that sort of thing.

And remember to always keep a few replacements at the ready (because even I can see that this poor plant is exactly what it looks like--nearly dead).


  1. Up here in Zone 4, Mother's Day is the designated last day for planting tomatoes and such. I know that we've had unseasonably warm weather this month (and the farmers are going gang-busters), but the ground temperature needs to be warmer. I did get some flower seeds in this weekend (in time for the rain storm) but its much too early for the rest of the crops. And I wouldn't give up on that little tomato just yet. I think it just might surprise you.

  2. GASP!! Tomato abuser!!!! ;-) Are we, your readers, going to have to come and take ALL the remaining tomato plants away from you if you can't at least take care of your babies?? ;-)

    TOTALLY kidding - I've done the same thing before...and MAN do they look pathetic when they're out there in the real world... Considering how much TLC you give them (mmmm! manure tea!), I'm sure you'll have 6ft tall tomato plants with big red fruit on them by the weekend! ;-)

    Any idea why we can't submit comments as an "Other" identity? Tried all weekend at your other site. I put in the Word Verification code and I'm told to enter the letters as they are shown in the image. I do this over and over and no luck... Will try again!

  3. Great blog! I have a gardening blog too. This is my first year at it.

  4. Last year I did twelve San Marzanos from seed I bought in Italy in a 4'x6' plot and canned 33 quarts plus whatever I used fresh. This year I'm planting (well,started) twenty plants and switching them to a double row with better support and red plastic mulch to see if my yield will improve. I ended up making a lot of pickled green tomatoes and salsa verde di pomodoro simply because the season is too short for everything to fully ripen around here(shores of Lake Erie).

  5. I had the best luck with my San Marzano's last summer, and just used the final jar of roasted tomatoes the other day. We're trying to move and so I have no idea what to do about planting, if I should just continue or hold off. Meanwhile the plants grow very slowly in the basement. They're ready for some manure tea!

  6. I had to replace a few tomatoes too, and was happy that I had extra ones. There was a segment about San Marzano tomatoes in a recent Slow Food documentary that was great! Apparently they came close to extinction before an Italian farm family began planting them again. Maybe I'll buy seeds when I'm in Italy - whoa! Steven may have released a monster.

  7. Hi Sally,
    Welcome to my garden! Oh, flower seeds. I knew I was forgetting to plant something. : ) I used to have really good luck with Oriental poppies--I can never get over how delicate and beautiful they are.

    As far as that poor little tomato seedling--you have exactly what we all need in the garden: neverending hope! I'm glad you found my blog, too. Look forward to hearing more from you.

    Hi Jeph,
    Oh please. Like you need anymore tomato plants. LOL, love the thought of having 6 ft tall plants sprouting fruit by the weekend. Reminds me of what our neighbor across the street when I was growing up used to say. He always planted a nice backyard garden, and he swore that no matter what day he put his tomato plants into the ground, he didn't get tomatoes until August 1st. "I can plant them on July 31st," he claimed, "and I"ll have tomatoes on August 1st." I always thought that was hysterical.

    Um, no idea why you had problems leaving comments on FF. I did a test comment as an "Other," putting in a different name and this URL, and it went through fine.

    I do have Comment Moderation enabled which means that your comments won't show up on the post until I've approved them (hopefully I'll be able to disable it soon--what a pain for all of us), but it doesn't sound like that was the problem. A week or so ago on THIS site everybody (including me) was having trouble with the word verification getting into some kind of endless loop, but to my knowledge it never happened on Farmgirl Fare--and it seems to have resolved itself here.

    If anybody is reading this and is still having trouble leaving comments on either blog, please let me know via email: farmgirlfare AT gmail DOT com. Thanks! And thanks, Jeph, for your perserverence. : )

    Hi Angel,
    Thanks so much and welcome to my garden!

    Hi Steven,
    Well done with the San Marzanos last year! I'm totally impressed. Can't wait to hear how big your bounty is this year.

    Hi Kelly,
    Oh no--moving. What to go ahead and plant? What to try to take with you? I definitely don't envy you. Of course, if you are selling your home, a planted garden would definitely be an attractive bonus to many people. And if you're renting, well, think how thrilled the new renters might with what you've done for them--and I bet you end up rewarded in your new place for your efforts. In the meantime, yes, get those little basement seedlings some manure tea if you can!

    Hi Laurie,
    Very interesting about the San Marzonos nearing extinction. I have tried many varieties of paste tomatoes, and yet year after year I keep coming back to my beloved San Marzanos. (Although I do have a new love--orange banana tomatoes. Oh my, talk about sweet. And that color!)

    This is no doubt obvious to all of you, but I have found from personal experience that soil and fertilizer can make a tremendous difference. One year I planted half my San Marzano seedlings in a very fertile bed and mulched thickly with sheep manure. The other half (because I couldn't stand to let them go to waste) were planted in a side area where the soil wasn't as great. So these were basically the same exact plants. Well, the ones in the "good" spot were literally at least twice the size of the others--and so were the tomatoes. Somebody not knowing would no doubt think they were two totally different varieties of tomatoes. That was a real eye opening experience for me.

    Oh, and as far as having to travel to Italy for your next batch of seeds. . .Don't know if this was coincidence or fate, but a few hours ago I was decluttering a pile of garden catalogs and came across the 2004-2005 catalog for Seeds From Italy. They "distribute the vegetable, herb, and flower seeds of Franchi Sementi spa of Bergamo, Italy. Founded in 1783, Franchi Sementi is family owned and the second largest seed company in Italy. . . .95% of our seeds are grown in Italy; none are genetically engineered nor are they treated. Orgainc seeds are certified by the Italian Certifying organization in Milan. Seed packs have an English language sticker with variety descriptions and growing instructions. Packs are large and typically have two to ten times the number of seeds in the typical American seed packet. Most seeds are $2.50. Certified organic seeds are $3.25."

    Okay, I just dare you to head over to their website. It's Oh, and shipping prices are very reasonable. It's probably a good thing I've ordered more seeds already than I can use this year. But of course there's always next year--and the chance that I'll be stuck inside during a snowstorm and remember about their website. . . : )

  8. I'm a little late with this comment but my favorite organic farmers just recommended Seeds of Italy to me. They said that there were a LOT of seeds in a packet and that the germination rate was amazing. But I'm going to Italy in October anyway, so what better souvenirs could I buy? They're light and easily packed!

  9. Good morning, fellow gardeners.

    We bought some San Marzano plants at our food coop yesterday and my husband has charged me with finding out how tall the plants get, and how far apart they should be planted. Enjoying this site! Thanks!

  10. Hi Laurie,
    Taking home seeds as souvenirs when you're in Italy sounds like a great idea. I'm definitely going to have to order some packets from them next year.

    Hi Anonymous fellow gardener,
    So glad you're enjoying my site. I apologize for the delayed response to your question. First of all, I think you are both going to be very happy with your San Marzano tomatoes. As far as planting/plant size, I'd say my plants get to be about 3 or 4 feet high, and they are fairly bushy. I contain them in large cylindrical cages I make from woven wire fencing. I have a tendency to cram things into my little raised beds, so I think I put 11 or 12 plants in one 4'x 8' bed this year. They grow just fine when they're crowded (somebody else commented in another post that they put I think 8 plants in a 4'x6' plot and got pounds and pounds of tomatoes), but harvesting can be a little more difficult (esp. as I plant mine in a two-one-two, etc. pattern so there are plants sort of buried in the center of the beds).

    If you have the space, I'd say plant them in a single row and allow about three or four feet between the centers of the plants.

    One thing I've noticed over the years is that San Marzano tomatoes really respond (as most plants do) to fertile soil--heavily manured in my case. I've had plants started from the same packet of seeds placed in two different spots in the garden (but one much better soil than the other), and if you just looked at them, you'd probably swear they were two completely different kinds of tomato plants. The plants in the poorer soil were much smaller, much scrawnier, and the fruits were about half the size. I know books, etc. are always saying not to overfertilize because if tomatoes get too much nitrogen you end up with all leaf and not much fruit, but I've found that I get super harvests when I mulch with lots of manure hay from the barn.

    Hope this helps. Good luck, and be sure to let us know how your plants do. : )

  11. Hello from England ... I just surfed in to your blog and wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed reading it. I've just started off some San Marzano myself so I'll be sure to come back and see how yours are doing.

    I can highly recommend Seeds of Italy (Franchi Sementi) ... I've been buying seeds from them for a few years and have had good service from them. The vegetables are truly wonderful and every bit as gorgeous as they look on the website! Very generous packets too ... you'll be planting them year after year. Yum.



March 2013 update: My apologies for the inconvenience - I know word verification is a pain - but I've had to turn it on to help stop the ridiculous number of anonymous spam comments I've been getting every day. Thanks for your understanding.

Welcome to! Thanks so much for taking the time to write. While I'm not always able to reply to every comment, I receive and enjoy reading them all.

Your feedback is greatly appreciated, and I especially love to hear about what's going on in your own garden. I know, too, that other readers also delight in reading about your garden successes, failures, helpful tips, and lessons learned. Feel free to leave comments on older posts!

I try my best to answer all questions, but sometimes it takes me a few days to get to them. And sometimes, I'm sorry to say, they fall through the cracks, and for that I sincerely apologize.

I look forward to hearing from you and hope you enjoy your visits to my kitchen garden!