Newsflash! Suckers don't suck!
You know that old gardening tip for tomatoes: pinch off those suckers - they sap energy from the plant? I've even read in a book about growing tomatoes that they will NEVER produce fruit so you should get rid of them immediately. Well, I tested it out myself way back then and that was not true - they did flower and produce fruit. It just goes to show that sometimes even the most repeated garden advice can be dead wrong.
The one time I do pinch off "suckers" and even blossoms that are starting to form on my tomatoes is around the end of the season when I can see that any new tomatoes that form won't even get to a state when they can be ripened inside. My theory is that the plant can then put its energy into the remaining fruit rather than trying to make even more. I haven't put this theory to the test yet though. Perhaps this season I will. Stay tuned!
Some good info and a video about "suckers" and what they are all about is here: http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/vegetables/growing-tomatoes/prune-tomato-plants-zmvz15jjzsor.aspx
Sow seeds outside in the WINTER??
You guys! I just found a new way to garden and I feel like my world has been turned upside down. It's called winter sowing, and I had never even heard a peep about it before until I saw it in the Jan/Feb 2014 Northern Gardening magazine in the break room at work. I was sort of puzzled and excited - could it really be true? Can you plant seeds and stick 'em outside in the winter and magically have seedlings to plant in the spring?
I googled it, and the answer is a resounding YES! I don't know how I had never heard of it before because there is tons of info about it out there. Even Bachmann's and Home Depot have info about it. Where was I - under a rock? How had I never come across this magical method before? Well, who cares - I am SUPER EXCITED about it now - can you tell? :)
I am also stoked that it will be WAY more green than using grow lights, and you generally use recyclable containers to plant the seeds. Also, seeds that say "soak overnight", "pre-chill" or "nick with a knife" you just plant and let the elements take care of that for you. I have many seeds I have never had much luck with that require this and now it'll apparently be easy as pie. I'm telling you, it seems like the best thing ever!
I don't know about you, but as a seed addict I have dozens of seed packets for flowers that I thought would be so pretty that I've never ended up with time for - or space under the grow lights for that matter. Now I can plant them out in containers and forget about them until spring!
Ok, so by now those of you like me not in the know are screaming at your screen - but how does this seemingly magical and impossible trick work??? Well, here are some resources with all the info you need to get you just as excited as I am:
Rest assured, I WILL be doing this for sure this year, and I plan on posting how to's on it as well, so stay tuned!
Calling all volunteers!
This here is some lovely volunteer lettuce. I think volunteer lettuce is the prettiest don't you?
It's pretty dang easy to get volunteer lettuce and eat some of your own homegrown salads before anyone else. All you gotta do is let at least one variety go to seed. You can even still harvest some of the leaves, probably as much as you would get if you chopped off the whole head. Once the little fluffy dandy-lion like seeds have formed, you just either let them go on their own in the wind wherever they may land (your lawn or cracks in the patio) or you can pluck them out yourself, and scatter them in the fall where you'd like them to grow in the spring.
A true lazy gardeners delight!
What have you been able to get to "volunteer"?
*pictured is Red Oakleaf and perhaps a variety of butter lettuce from a variety pack I planted last year.
Tomato germination trouble?
Anyone out there having a bit of trouble getting your little ones to emerge from their dark little cocoons? well, I thought I'd share a few tips and secrets I've picked up over the years.
1. Get a heat mat.
You may think you don't need one, or they're too expensive, but let me tell you what a revelation it was when I finally got one last year. My seedlings used to take FOREVER to come up, and sometimes not at all. My germ rate was way too low. I thought it was just the seeds - but no, it was that they were too cold (and also packed in too tight, but we'll get to that in a minute.) Once you get a heat mat, your seedlings will be leaping up overnight. Yes, they actually will. If I don't check mine in the morning, sometimes they are already up about an inch by the time I get home from work.
2. Don't pack 'em in.
When I first started trying to grow tomatoes from seed, I got my little peat pots and I looked at the directions on the pack. Ok peat pot expanded, seed 1/4 inch in, cover up and squish that peat down nice and cozy. Bzzzt! Nope. Seeds need not only moisture, but air to come to life. If you pack them in there, they won't be able to breathe. Now, I put the seeds in and barely push the peat over the top. Works like a dream.
3. Put 'em in the dark.
Seeds need dark to germinate for some reason. I know it doesn't make much sense, I mean in the "wild" the seeds would just fall on the ground and have to sprout in broad daylight right? I dunno. Just cover them up with something opaque like a box top or some newspapers though, ok?
4. Plant at least 2 seeds per pot.
I know, I know you don't want to waste seeds. Well, I didn't either, so instead I wasted time. Precious, precious time. Time those seedlings could have spent getting big and strong and ready for the "real" world. Just this year I decided to plant at least 2 seeds in every pot, and I can tell you every peat pot I planted has a seedling growing in it. Now my problem is I have too many, but that's a different kind of problem. The problem of insanity - but that can be solved with medication. Your weak little undergrown seedlings cannot.
5. Don't keep 'em too wet.
This is kind of a tough one for some reason. It took me quite a while to get this just right. If you're using peat pots or a similar moisture holding material, you need to soak them in water to be able to use them. But this makes them too wet. You can solve this problem one of two ways. You can wait to plant your seeds for a day (who has the patience?) Or, you can plant right away and leave the plastic cover off the first or second night. Likewise, you can alternate between leaving the plastic cover on and taking it off. One night it's on the next it's off, you get the idea. This way you can avoid the bane of seed starting; a mysterious mold that creeps up in the middle of the night and pounces on the little buggers, ruining them. (Actually it's not really mysterious,and it doesn't actually pounce. I bet it even has a name, I'm just too lazy to look it up right now.)
Once your seeds sprout, you do need to remove them from their dark moist cave and bring them into the light. Be sure to check them daily - or twice a day is best. You'd be surprised how fast they can shoot up -I always am.
If you've tried all the above and been a very good little girl (or boy) and your seeds still don't sprout, I have one secret that I use. I call it "fluffing". You just take your fingernail (or similar small pointy object) and gently kinda dig into the top of the pot sort of fluffing up and pushing the peat aside until you uncover the seed or seeds. Then, you very softly cover them up again, and don't add any water for a day. You can also make sure when you do this that the seed wasn't planted to deeply. They don't like that either. Too shallow is actually better than too deep.
Well, that's all I got for right now. I hope some of these help. Lemme know 'eh?
How long do seeds keep?
That's what I was wondering as I pondered what seeds to order this year. I've got lots of bean and pea seeds left from previous years, but I noticed they didn't germinate too well last year. Is that because they're no longer good? And what about all of my beloved tomato seeds? I mean, you get so many to a pack that you never use them all in one season unless you have a whole farm. I've just got a little secret farm, so I went searching for an answer.
This is what I found:
Vegetable seed viability
beans - 3 years
beets - 2 years
carrots - 3 years
corn - 2 years
cucumbers - 5 years
lettuce - 3 years
peas - 3 years
peppers - 2 years
pumpkins - 4 years
radishes - 5 years
spinach - 5 years
tomato - 4 years
watermelon - 4 years
It also depends on how they were stored. It's best to store them in a dry, cool location away from light - however mine always seem to end up out on the 3 season porch every winter where it gets below zero for a bit every year - way colder than "cool". But last year I had some tomato seeds from 5 yrs ago germinate quite well, so I guess it all depends.
You can check the viability of your seeds by placing several out on a few layers of moist paper towels, roll up so that the seeds don't touch, and enclose the bundle in plastic wrap so it doesn't dry out. Place in a warm bright location (65 to 70 degrees or so) but away from direct sun. Check the seeds every couple days, until you reach 2 weeks. If you put 10 seeds in there for instance, and 3 germinate at the end of 2 weeks, you'll probably have a 30% germ. rate. Of course then you just wasted 10 seeds, so I usually just go with the less scientific -sow more with older seeds strategy. No matter what, I always end up with more seedlings than I can use anyway.
Well, happy seed shopping!
I know it's too late for most of you. including me, but I thought I'd post a picture of good indoor ripening tomatoes anyway - since Nick asked a while back. All three of these are good candidates and should ripen just fine on their own indoors. Perhaps I'll leave them sitting on the stove and give you an update photo later. When you pick a green tomato for indoor ripening, remember they should have a slight bit of give, and have a nice shiny appearance. If they are dull and fuzzy, they may change color, but they won't be any good at all for eating, which I assume is what you are bringing them in for. Also, if they feel at all like a tennis ball they are probably also too young to bring in and may be really mealy and dry as they have not soaked up enough water yet. If you are desperate though, say the eve of a hard frost, go ahead and bring them in. The worst they could do is rot on your counter and make a mess. You may however get lucky and still be eating tomatoes from your garden long after your neighbors. The longest I stretched it out one year was past New Year's, but that's another story.
Gather your tomatoes while ye may
Yes, Fall is here, and that means that most of your garden has either slowed down or stopped all together. There are some things you can do though to prolong at least your tomato crop. The picture above is a good example of one. Just clip your green tomatoes off with a stem long enough to stick in a jar or vase of water. This will keep really green tomatoes hydrated so they stay juicy as they ripen instead of getting dry and mealy. Tomatoes that are just about to ripen can be snatched from the jaws of hungry vermin by simply bringing them inside and setting them out on the counter. I like to put them on a paper towel as the bottom will sometimes rot when in contact with the non-porous countertop. They should ripen before they dry out and thus retain their full juiciness. You may lose some to the indoor nasties (fruit flies) but most will make it as long as they don't have cracks or holes already. You may put your youngins into a paper bag, some claim this speeds up the ripening process as they can share their little ripening gasses. I on the other hand am crossing my fingers that mine ripen very slowly, as we are already swimming in tomatoes - never thought that was possible. The last option, I would actually like to dispell - if any of you have had luck with this though, please let me know. That option is pulling up the vine with remaining green tomatoes intact and hanging it upside down in the basement. I tried this last year with several of my vines, and even some of my potted ones, and all they did was shrivel up and rot - every last one of them. They didn't even ripen one little speck. I would have been much better off with one of the other methods. Anyone else have any other tricks? I'm all eyes. And please, don't be afraid of the new comment procedure, it won't bite - at least not as hard as the comment spam did.