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!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a super update. I'm already looking forward to the Sungold & Legend varieties. If Mom thinks they'll be good, they'll be good. Yummy. It sounds like you're trying to beautify your garden this year with what I gather are non edible Sunflowers plants. I will look for them as the summer progresses. I know we will have summer even if it's for a day or two. You seem to be well on your way to a good garden. You are almost done with your indoor planting, congratulations. I hope the weather cooperates for you and all the garden and outdoor spring/summer activities.