Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tomatoes and Sunflowers

As my 'start indoors' list gets shorter and shorter with each thing I plant, the weather outside gets crazier and crazier.  I would seriously like someone to come stand in my backyard wearing Spring appropriate clothing and attempt to convince me that Climate Change is not real.  I will watch from inside, as it is SNOWING out there, and see how long they last.  Snow has fallen in April here in the past, but it is not too common, and further North they are getting way more winter weather than is normal for this time of year.  Winter weather warnings complete with 6-12 inches of snow are NOT normal for spring!  I feel the worst for the Canadians as it appears Spring may skip them this year!  Here's hoping we all get to experience summer at least!

Though the weather can't seem to make up it's mind outside, inside the seedlings are oblivious to the temperature roller-coaster and constant change in form of precipitation.  Inside they live a relatively pampered life with constant warmth and plenty of light and water.  I know they will have to brave the elements at some point, but not until that white stuff stops falling!  And the tomato and sunflower seeds I planted a few days ago, have demonstrated their ignorance quite well.

I finally got the tomatoes and sunflowers started on April 14th.  I had hoped to get them started on the 10th, but first life got in the way, and then I discovered I only had about 2/3rds the amount of seed starting soil I actually needed.  I don't see this 'late' start being too big of an issue as most of the sunflowers and a good number of the tomatoes have already started peeking their heads out.  It started with a single sunflower three days ago and has progressed rapidly from there.  Out of the 33 cells, 18 already have sprouts.  The sunflowers are winning this race with ten of the 18, but I know the tomatoes will catch up!  Tom was rather surprised at the speed of the new plantings, but I guess the peppers sort of threw him off with their long germination times.  Still, that one sunflower may be on steroids! I'll have to have it tested. ;-)

This year's mix of tomatoes has a 'canning friendly' theme.  Since I ended up buying a good number of roma tomatoes from the farmer's market last year, I thought it might be a good idea to grow some of my own.  I went with Amish Paste, and discovered something rather amusing.  When I was planting the seeds, a large majority of the Amish Paste seeds were stuck, or "pasted" together.  I couldn't help but wonder if the term 'paste' was a little more literal than assumed.  They are one of the eight sprouts, so I don't think the stickiness is interfering with their germination.  I must say it is still rather humorous!

The second type of 'canning friendly' tomato I planted is an heirloom variety called Italian Heirloom.  It originates from Italy and produces fruits weighing over a pound each.  They apparently have a lot more flesh than seed, so there is little waste when used for canning.  Even the photo on the seed packet demonstrates this characteristic. (I bought my seeds at the Garden Expo, but you can get them too at  So basically, if the Amish Paste plants are a bust, there should still be plenty of canning worthy tomatoes to go around!  And although they are supposed to take 7-14 days to germinate, one cell of these already has a sprout too!

Now let's move on to the 'not-so-canning-friendly-but-super-fun' tomatoes.  The last couple of years I only planted tomatoes that I thought looked fun and yummy.  But after two years of canning experience, I thought I had better grow some varieties that worked better for that activity.  That doesn't mean completely getting rid of the fun ones though!

Fun choice number one is a relative of Mr. Stripey.  I have tried unsuccessfully two years in a row to grow Mr. Stripey.  I don't know why, but the fruits just didn't want to ripen, and took forever to get started in the first place!  The plant itself did fine, though the first year it fell prey to Late Blight despite being considered a somewhat 'resistant' variety.  My choice this time around is another heirloom,Tigerella.  Like Mr. Stripey, Tigerella is red with yellow stripes, has a rich delicious flavor (says the seed packet; I'll let you know), and has that wonderful habit of growing to a height of 8-10 feet.  One of the big differences between the two though, is that Tigerella produces medium sized fruits instead of large and does well even in cool summers.  That will be a plus if we get the amount of rain we got last year!  (*Cough, cough* Climate change!)

Next is the mystery pack!  I bought an heirloom mix packet with 30 seeds in it and planted two seeds in each of eight cells.  I don't have room for sixteen plants, but I wanted to make sure I got at least one plant per cell.  And maybe there will be even more pots full of random veges on my porch this year... (Don't tell Tom! ;-D )  Here is what may or may not come up: Aunt Ruby's German Green, Black Brandywine, German Johnson, Giant Oxheart, Mortgage Lifter, Pineapple, Watermelon, Beefsteak, White Wonder, and Yellow Brandywine.  I hope I end up with at least a few different colors of tomatoes, so that I can convince my mom that a tomato doesn't have to be red to be delicious.  Regardless of outcome, I think I'll do pretty well with any of the above!

And speaking of my mom, I have two different varieties started for her and my dad.  The first is a cherry type called Sungold that my mom picked out, I assume, because it says they are "so delicious you won't even believe you are eating tomatoes!".  And because she really like cherry tomatoes!  The second variety is one I picked out called Legend.  I have never tried it, but I picked it because of the following descriptors: Early to ripen; Excellent late blight tolerance; 4-5 inch glossy red fruits that are amazingly sweet; Determinate, so will do well in a container.  The Sungold was the first tomato to come up and the Legend variety broke through today.  My parents are well on their way to enjoying the literal fruits of my labor.

That leaves us with the sunflowers.  I really enjoy sunflowers, and was disappointed that I didn't get any started last year.  So this year I planned ahead and got some started so that they will be plants and not yummy seeds when I get them outside.  Nothing worse than planting sunflower seeds only to have them carried off by a scavenging rodent or bird!  And I should mention these are not edible-for-humans varieties, so they will not be inside the garden.  I went with two tall types and one short.  The short one was actually a free sample at my local garden store, so that is a plus.  Who doesn't like free seeds?  That variety is called Teddy Bear and actually resembles chrysanthemums more than the traditional sunflower.  No seed face surrounded by petals, but rather a pom-pom type look.  They are golden yellow, and only get to 24 inches in height.  I may put them in front of the taller ones, or in a completely different area.  I have yet to decide!

The taller varieties are Autumn Beauty and Orange Mahogany Bicolor F1.  Autumn Beauty grows from 5-7 feet tall with blooms in shades of lemon yellow, subtle bronze, rich wine, and bicolor combinations.  And if you let them go to seed, they apparently can be harvested as food for wild birds.  The Orange Mahogany hybrid produces 5-6 foot plants with orange and yellow bicolor blooms.  Unlike the Autumn variety which blooms in late summer/ early fall, the Orange Mahogany blooms all summer long and into the fall.  That means I will have plenty of beauty throughout the growing season!

Looking over my 'start indoors list', I am feeling pretty satisfied knowing that there are only three items left to go.  On May 1st, depending on the weather, I will start Watermelon, Pumpkin, and Pok Choy indoors.  That will complete my indoor list and we will hopefully be on our way to a great summer.  So weather, you had better get with the program!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Peppers- One Month On

Today is the one month anniversary of the 'Planting of the Peppers'.  Well all the peppers except Bhut Jolokia, Cayenne, and Hungarian Wax; The planting of which occurred just two days later on the 20th.  And although it can take from 10 days to 5 weeks for sprouts to appear, a good number of them showed their faces rather quickly.  In fact, by March 31st some of my seedlings managed to come up, then subsequently die due to damping off.  This sort of thing is rather upsetting in normal circumstances, but it is particularly maddening to me.  

The first year I started my garden, I also started plants from seed.  I was off on the timing, used regular potting soil as starter in peat pots, and did not 'correctly' harden off my plants before transplanting.  Everything I did was "wrong", and yet most of my plants lived and thrived!  There were no cases of damping off, and the only real issue was the late planting time.  

The next year, after doing research, I planted my seeds in a recommended seed starter mix and consulted my new "planting time" list.  I used peat pots again, but followed proper hardening off procedures.  When the plants were at the point where I was able to leave them outside 24/7, a large number of them mysteriously died.  I was sad and confused.  I took a few dead looking seedlings to the garden store, and was told the bad news.  I had lost my plants to damping off, and they weren't coming back.  The advice I was given to prevent the problem from occurring again was to use plastic instead of peat pots in hopes that that would stave off any lingering fungus and possibly reduce excess moisture.  

So this year I used seed starting mix in plastic containers.  I started everything at the correct time and have been careful not to over water.  And yet I STILL had seedlings damp off.  And they aren't even outside yet!  Very, very maddening!!!  From an action and consequences stand point, I have learned doing everything correctly is a bad idea, and doing everything 'wrong' is the way to go.  I think the damping off this time may have been due to a lack of air circulation, but that is no different from the last two years either.  There is some good news to report however!

On March 31st, I replanted the seeds that damped off.  This included two of the Peter Pepper cells, one Habanero, one Garden Salsa cell, and all the Yummy Blend.  I also planted the remainder of the Peter Pepper, Yummy Blend, and Bhut Jolokia seeds in round pots for an experiment.  I read in two different books that using chamomile tea water to water your seedlings was a way to help prevent damping off.  So I made chamomile tea, diluted it, and then let it cool to room temperature before using it to water the seeds in the round pots.  Then I waited.

And waited....
Notice the barren cells in the middle. (You can click the photo for larger view. )

I was pretty much ready to give up hope of ever seeing the replanted peppers emerge.  In fact I was so concerned about the Yummy Blend, which was planted for my parents, that I went to the store and got another sweet pepper variety and planted that just in case!  Everyday I woke up and went to bed staring at dirt.  Not seedlings emerging, but dirt. Then on April 16th, I looked at the round pots and my eyes got large.

The replanted and experimental Yummy Blend peppers had come up!  Only one of the three seen in the photo at right came up on April 16th, but that lone Yummy Blend seedling was soon joined by two friends.  And as you can see, they are doing pretty well.  I took the photo this evening after the sun went down, but you can see that I probably should have turned them one more time before sunset.  They are Leaning towards the light. 

The next pepper to "rock my world" was the Peter Pepper.  A single sprout came up two days ago, but I admit my excitement was not AS intense.  The main reason for that was because there were in fact Peter peppers from the original planting in one lonely cell of the pepper flat.  When the two barren Peter Pepper cells continued to remain that way, I moved two of the three seedlings into those cells.  Of course one of the contenders is pictured at left.  It has actually been like that, with the seed skin still attached, for several days.  It may or may not make it.  That would be why it is a good thing the back up(s) has sprouted!

And that leaves us with one round pot to go.  Now when I received the Bhut Jolokia, or Ghost Pepper seeds, all I knew was that they can be very difficult to grow and that they need it to be HOT, even more so than their counter parts.  Upon picking up another book on chili peppers (the only plant specific books I own), I found out that the 5 week germination time applies to Capsicum chinense.  Which is the species of chili pepper Bhut Jolokia falls under. (Other familiar members include Habañero and Scotch Bonnet.)  So the fact that I hadn't seen any Bhut Jolokia was understandable.  However, with the whole damping off debacle I was getting nervous!  My Habañeros had come up with the rest of the peppers and only had that one incidence of damping off.  (One of the Habañero seedlings is shown above.) The replant of those in the regular pepper flat did not come up, but similar to the Peter Pepper situation, I was able to move 'extras' to the empty space.  With the Bhut Jolokia, I planted ALL the seeds I had and so far had nothing to show for it.  

So when I peaked into the mini greenhouse today, my expectations were low.  I removed the cover, and saw.... something!  Is that?  Is that a SPROUT!?!?  Still in disbelief, I had to get closer.  This involved removing the cellophane I had wrapped around the Bhut Jolokia round pot only, to give it even more heat.  Upon removing that it became clear.  Houston, we have a SPROUT!  :-)  Of course my label for the Bhut Jolokia (Ghost Pepper), made the event even better, because it was indeed as
though something 'dead' came to 'life' and said, "BOO!" to me.  It was the perfect start to the day and a great Earth Day present!

Here is a LARGE close up of the Bhut Jolokia seedling.  SEE!  It does exist! < -------

And so I leave you with some pictures of the rest of the peppers. 
Here you can see the entire pepper flat. (4/18)  The early risers and also the ones that didn't damp off, are much taller for obvious reasons. The cayenne and Hungarian wax are on the far left. (Click on photo for larger image)

Close up of the "tall" club.  This includes from left to right, top to bottom: Peter Pepper, Habañero, Mariachi, Garden Salsa (of which the replant came up), Serraño, Jalapeño, Super Chili, and Roster Spur.

Cayenne Pepper

Super Chili Hybrid