Wednesday, April 05, 2006

What's Growin' On: 4/5/06

Tomatoes & More In The Greenhouse

San Marzano Tomato Seedlings (started from my '05 seeds)

Various Tomato & Pepper Seedlings In Individual Plugs

More Than Ready For Individual Containers

The other day I finally moved the last flat of pepper and tomato seedlings from their indoor home (tucked under a standard flourescent shop light that we hung from the bottom bookshelf in my office--a super use of previously unused space, though not Doodle proof of course) into the greenhouse.

Despite nighttime temperatures that continue to dip into the 20sF, the tomato plants are doing just fine, thanks to the hastily constructed "greenhouse within a greenhouse" they've been living in, along with regular servings of their favorite elixir--diluted llama pellet tea. It's so important for seedlings in containers to receive enough fertilizer (especially if you have them growing in a soilless--meaning nutrient-less--potting medium).

I have six containers of seedlings that still need to be transplanted into individual plugs and cups. As you can see in the photos, I use either styrofoam cups (stop cringing--I've been using the same ones for 10 years) or, for smaller plants, individual plastic plugs that come in various sizes. These are a great space saver, too. About 10 years ago I mail-ordered a whole bunch of plugs and the black plastic trays they fit in. The bulk price was much, much less than buying just a few at a time. I like to stock up on things like that so I don't have to worry about purchasing them each year. Also, if you are gentle with your transplanting (even though they aren't reallyl meant to be), your plugs can be used over and over.

I write the name of the plant directly on the styrofoam cups with a black Sharpie permanent marker. For the plugs, I make tags using strips of plastic cut from yogurt and sour cream containers, usually the ones made from #5 plastic since it is not recyclable around here (another example of Gardening On The Cheap--and Recycling In The Garden). These work really well--just don't use a red Sharpie, as the writing will fade in the sun and suddenly you will have no idea what is what.

These seeds were started on March 8th and really should have been transplanted already. They are:

Lemon Cucumbers (Pinetree seeds, '06)
An 1894 heirloom that I just love. Last year I had a lemon cucumber explosion--in a good way, though it did get a little scary going out into the garden once the incredibly happy (and prolific) vines had not only taken over an entire 4'x8'bed, but the entire surrounding 4' wide walkway in all directions as well. Don't ask why I bought more seeds and didn't use some from last year's best specimens. Actually, I think there are some seeds still sitting out in the garden--maybe they'll sprout on their own.

Tomatillo Verde (Baker Creek seeds, '06)
I absolutely love cooked tomatillo salsa but haven't grown tomatillos in years--mainly due to a space shortage. I used to put up jars and jars of the stuff and then use them to make the most delicious enchiladas. Tomatillos have always done well for me in Missouri, and I'm looking forward to having them in the garden once again. (If I can locate my salsa recipe, I'll be happy to share it.)

Riesentraube Tomato (Baker Creek, '06)
This German heirloom (the name means "giant bunch of grapes") is a new tomato for me. It produces 1 ounce fruits that grow in clusters (hence the name). I was swayed by the luscious photo in the catalog and the phrases in the description: "rich, full of flavor" and "large plants produce massive yields." For $1.50, how could I resist?

Brandywine Tomato (Baker Creek, '06)
This was my "free packet with every order" packet this year. Brandywines date back to 1885 and are the most well known heirloom around. This large, pink tomato is indeed incredibly delicious, but in the past I have had problems with the fruits cracking (as happens with most varieties of very large tomatoes). Blossom end rot was a problem at times as well, though I think I have that licked (it has to do with a calcium deficiency in the soil brought about by excess rain or watering). We'll see. The seedlings look great, so I have high hopes for these.

Millionaire Tomato (Baker Creek, '06)
Another new variety for me. This 1950s, "richly flavored" variety from the Ozarks is coral pink and ought to do well here. Can't wait to see the color.

VFN (mine, '01)
I started a second batch of these seeds since the germination rate was so low the first time (not surprise since the seeds are five years old). Both batches are doing fine. This is a standard, salad type heirloom tomato that gets its name from the diseases it is resistant to: Vercillium Wilt, Fusillium Wilt, and something else I can't remember off the top of my head. Joe likes them because they look like "regular" tomatoes, size- and color-wise. I like them because they are dependable in the garden. And of course we both love the superb flavor.

As mentioned previously, I garden by the moonsigns as much as I can (I need all the help I can get), so if the weather is warm enough by then (iffy since we can get frosts well past our offical frost date of April 15th), I will start transplanting tomato plants into the garden on the fertile days in the third quarter--April 14th, 15th, 19th, and 20th. We are lucky to have quite a few fertile days this month, especially when there is so much to do in the garden. (Yes, I promise I will go into more about this soon, but in the meantime, I will let you know when the upcoming "good" days are to do things, and you can try to schedule your gardening activities around them if you so desire.)

When transplanting tomatoes into the garden, these are the two things I always do, and I know they make a difference.

1. Put one teaspoon of Epsom Salts (NOT table salt, find it in the pharmacy section) in the bottom of each tomato hole.

2. Before you plant your tomato seedling, pinch off all of the leaves except the top two or three and then bury the entire plant up to those leaves (you may have to lay it sideways in the ground--that's fine). I know, this sounds like some sort of bizarre plant (and gardener) torture, but believe me, once you get over your initial fears of realizing that you just turned your large and happy plant you have been babying for weeks into three dinky leaves, you will thank me. All those places where you pinched off the leaves will put out roots, giving your plant a strong, healthy base.

I think that's it for now. Time to head back outdoors. It's another beautiful spring day. Beyond the garden gate, the woods are filled with dogwood and redbud blooms. This really is a lovely time of year here.
Note: It is definitely not too late to start your own tomato plants from seed. The best time to start tomato, pepper, squash, and eggplant seeds are on fertile days in the second quarter--April 6th and April 12th this month. Don't miss the full moon April 13th! (But don't start your seeds that day.)


  1. I got of my knitting bottom today and went out and spread 6 more bags of mulch in the front garden. As I was speading the mulch I was saying how proud me you would be. Silly city girl is trying to garden! lol! Wait until you see what else I have been thinking about!

  2. Farmgirl -

    Have you considered trying Aunt Ruby's Green Tomato or Black Krim? Amongst the other tomatoes I tried last year (mostly heirlooms for the first time!), friends, family and coworkers went NUTS over these! I have to say Black Krim was my favorite! A VERY close runner up was Green Zebra...

    This year's seedlings include the above plus some new ones, including Black From Tula (will do taste tests vs Black Krim), and I'm embarrassed to admit, SEVEN varieties of cherry/grape tomatoes - I could resist trying the super sweet Sun Gold, nor a Rainbow Cherry Tomato variety pack!!

    Let me know if you have any temptation at all to try "just a few more varieties...just a few!" and I'll be happy to send you some spare seeds!! You can check out my list at my blog (see link) (which, sorry, is homemade and poorly formatted right now). If you scroll down a little ways, you'll see some of what's growing!

    And YES, definitely share a good tomatillo recipe! I grew two tomatillo plants for the first time last year. HOLY COW! That's A LOT of tomatillos!!!! And then I couldn't find any recipes who's results I they kind of went to waste. Since I have the same plot this year, I KNOW I'll have PLENTY of volunteers coming up...

    Sorry to hear about Lucky #13... :(

  3. Epsom salts for the tomatoes, eh? *scribbles note to self*

    Last year I was up to my ears in volunteer cucumbers. I predict the same for you. You never find them all, do you?

  4. So one or two questions: About how old (right word?) are those seedlings? I feel like my tomatillo seedlings aren't getting off to a good start... they look very "leggy". I started them about 10 days ago, and while the tigerella tomato seedlings look on track, the tomatillos are very tall and spindly... any suggestions?

  5. I cannot go without Brandywines anymore. Last year I limited myself to one plant and I regretted it. Now I have started - good God, just HOW MANY seeds did I start? Anybody want some tomato seedlings?

    Anyway, your seedlings look great and I will take your advice about the epsom salts, and add some crushed up eggshells as well. I'm surprised that you plan to transfer them to the garden so early though!

    Do you have a suggestion for a book on planting by the moon? Should I just buy a farmer's almanac? I always forget about this and I was really going to try it this year. Maybe I'll re-plant my sweet pepper seeds today. I had given up.

  6. Oh yeah, and thanks for the tip on the #5 plastic recycling - bangs head - why didn't I think of that?

  7. Okay, I'm going to try this one more time. It is now 9pm. I wrote the comment below about 2:30pm. Since then I have notified Blogger about the comment leaving problem but haven't heard back yet. Then I cleared out my browser cache (or whatever you call it when you send all the temporary internet files to the recycle bin) and restarted my computer. I then opened this page back up, put in my comment, hit PREVIEW, and it worked! Then I hit LOGIN and PUBLISH and the whole page evaporated. I have no idea what is going on. Like I said, one more time. : ) Here is my original comment from this afternoon:

    GRRRRRRRRR. I don't know why there are such problems leaving comments here! What is odd is that while I've been trying to leave this one, four comments were successfully posted by others. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it.

    If you are having trouble leaving comments here, you are welcome to leave them at Or you can email me: farmgirlfare AT gmail DOT com.

    If you have just written a very long comment and don't want to lose it but Blogger won't accept it, you can highlight it with your cursor, copy it, and then save it to your wordpad or notepad and come back and try to leave it later. I have trained myself to always copy my comments before hitting Preview or Publish--I learned the hard way, having too many comment replies that had taken a half hour to write just vanish into thin air.

    My apologies for those having problems leaving comments.

    Hi Vickie,
    Silly city girl, crazy farm girl--we've all got dirt under our fingernails but are just in different locations. : )

    P.S. And I am proud of you!

    Hi Jeph,
    I haven't heard of Aunt Ruby's but Black Krim sounds awfully familiar. Maybe I grew it one year (this is why I started the garden blog!). If I did, it obviously wasn't very memorable. I have found that with our unpredictable weather, the same tomato varietes can do great one year and awful the next. That's one reason why I grow so many varieties--and why I am always trying new ones.

    LOL, just yesterday I was decluttering my desk and found a packet of unopened Green Zebra tomato seeds from last year (my free packet from Baker Creek). Since I just told everyone it's not too late to start tomato seeds, I guess I'd better plant some. Of course I have no garden space for them, but that's never stopped me before.

    I, too, can get carried away with the cherry type tomatoes. My favorite is gold nugget. So sweet. I used to always grow red and yellow currant but they are such a pain to pick I realized I was pretty much growing them for the birds. One year I had a red currant tomato plant in my greenhouse that I managed to somehow keep alive, and I harvested tomatoes in December--wonderful!

    Oh, thank you so much for the offer to send me some seeds. I am going to exhibit extreme self control here and politely decline. I really don't have enough room for the 200 or so plants I already have growing. Next year may be a different story, though. . . : )

    Yep, tomatillo plants can be pretty prolific. I will definitely dig up that recipe (*as she desperately hopes she wrote it down somewhere*). I also have a recipe for a tomatillo dip I created for a chef who was buying tomatillos from me years ago and didn't know what to do with them.

    Hi Jamie,
    Yes, epsom salts! I can't remember the science of what they do (and am too lazy to go hunting for it), but just trust me. I'm not sure what is going to happen with the lemon cucumbers this year. I'll probably have them growing all over the walkways. But of course volunteers are my favorite kind of plants! : )

    Hi Lacy,
    The seedlings that haven't been put into individual plugs yet (third photo) were started way back on March 8th. I didn't have them in a very warm spot, so germination was slow. Sounds like yours are doing great if they're only 10 days old.

    Tomatillo seedlings look a lot different than tomato seedlings--they are taller and leggier (is that a word?), so yours are probably fine. (In my photo, the tomatillos are in the container on the bottom right. See how tall they are?)

    If your seedlings are indoors under a light, you want to make sure the light is just an inch or two above the plants--this discourages legginess (hmmm, wonder if that's a word, too). You just raise the light as the plants get taller.

    Hope this helps!

  8. Woohoo! It worked!

    (It's the little things. . . of course they're usually also the ones that make us want to tear our hair out, LOL.)

  9. GRRRRRR. Still having problems leaving comments. . .

    Hi Laurie,
    Didn't mean to skip over you. I was so excited that my comment finally posted, I forgot you'd posted one in the interim. Yes, definitely try the epsom salts.

    Well, my plan is to start putting my tomatoes and peppers in the ground later this month--we'll see. If I only p ut a few out, then I have the means to cover them at night if necessary. I just don't like having pepper plants in the prime of life shot down by fall frost--such a waste of delicious peppers!

    And I will get back to you about a book on gardening by the moonsigns. Glad your #5 plastic containers are no longer going in the garbage! : )

  10. I grew tomatillos last year, you don't need many, they were so prolific and indestructible, much easier than tomatoes, I tried salsas and sauces with them. Fun! This year my tomatillo seedlings & peppers are leggy, does anyone know if you can plant them up to their necks like you do a tomato?


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!