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Leggy Tomato Seedlings

Our tomato seedlings have really taken off. In fact, I think they are a bit more leggy this year than some years. I’m not a fan.

These plants are just 3 weeks old! Well…the seeds were planted 3 weeks ago today. This is why I try very hard to start our tomatoes no sooner than 4 weeks before we want to plant outside. Normally I would be starting to put them outside for hardening off right now – except that it’s only 44 degrees outside. Yeah, not so much. Most years I insistently hold the line on not planting our tomato plants before the first week of May, and this year I decided that we could plant on April 23rd so they were in before Herb Day. (I’m going to be away from the garden on April 30th.) Well, at present they are still forecasting overnight lows below 40 degrees for next week. No tomato plants going outside here!

Yes, I suppose we could break out the milk jugs (ugh, they blow away in the wind!) or the wall-o-waters (ugh, expensive!). But I don’t really think there is much benefit to doing those things at this point.

Part of the reason the plants are so leggy this year is that they level of my light stand they are on has 2 of the 4 fluorescent tubes burned out. I think it is the fixtures, because the same tubes are burned out every spring. The peppers and eggplant under the middle tier aren’t getting leggy yet.

So, since I can’t put the plants outside, here are the steps I’m taking to prevent further legginess:

1. Moved them to the bottom tier of lights where there are 4 tubes working.

2. Placed the lights as close to the tops of the plants as possible without actually touching.

3. Provide minimal fertilizer. (I’ve only fertilized once because I saw a little bit of purple color showing up on some of the leaves.)

4. Keep my office cooler…yeah…I can try!

5. Put them outside whenever a warm, sunny day presents itself. (Even a cloudy, warm day would be acceptable at this point.)

Whenever you are getting leggy seedlings the keys to keeping them shorter are: more light, closer/brighter light, cooler temps, less fertilizer, less water. Even small differences can make a big difference in the growth of your plants.

Oh yeah, and I’m hoping that the forecast straightens out into something more closely resembling mild spring weather.

Getting Growing

I forgot to come in and water all the newly planted seeds over the long weekend…oops!

Luckily, it doesn’t look like much harm was done. Everything was just starting to come up, and the germination is about what I typically expect. The tomatoes are almost 100% germination (I counted 3 pots without a plant in them) and the peppers and eggplants are lagging behind and slightly spottier in germination. The ‘Big Bertha’ peppers that we are using 3 year old seed aren’t coming up yet…which isn’t too surprising. Both eggplant and peppers like nice warm conditions for germination, so I usually expect worse (or slower) germination. There is only one variety (‘Rosa Bianca’ eggplant) that has no germination evident yet. I’ll probably give it until the end of the week before replanting.

So far, so good!

Getting Ready for Fall

With rain yesterday and not a SINGLE triple-digit temperature forecast in sight, it’s time to talk about fall gardening. It probably hasn’t been reflected in most of the pictures on this blog, but if you come to the garden you will see that most of our vine crops are looking old and tired. They will be doing well to make it for another 3-4 weeks in most cases. We are also starting to see what I suspect may be some powdery mildew. Ugh.

Since we have so many vine crops this year, there will be lots of space for fall vegetables. We are almost exclusively starting things indoors this year, rather than trying to direct seed. The reasons for this:

  • It’s still a bit hot to successfully start most of the fall vegetables from seed, especially in combination with…
  • Our very sandy, extremely well-drained soil in the raised beds will make it hard to keep the seeds moist enough to germinate well. Vegetables with tiny seeds like lettuce and carrots are a challenge anyway!
  • Even if we were to plant seeds right along the drip lines, the emitters are still 12″ apart, and I just don’t think we’d get good germination. We may have a challenge getting some of the shallow-rooted fall vegetable transplants established as it is.

So, what are we planting?

We planted 2 varieties of radicchio – a red and a green. We also planted some red bunching onions, one variety of leeks, cilantro, cutting celery, and 5 varieties of lettuce. The lettuce, cilantro, and cutting celery should easily be ready to transplant in about 4 weeks. The onions, leeks, and radicchio…well…we probably should have planted them indoors 2-3 weeks ago. We’re not perfect either! All three vegetables grow very slowly from seed and take several weeks to be large enough to transplant. The radicchio I am expecting to be the fastest of the three…they may be the right size in about 4 weeks. However, radicchio tends to have a very low germination percentage. The packet of brand new seed tested at a 65% germination rate. That’s another great reason to start them inside! We actually double planted the seed, to make sure we got plenty of plants.

I’m looking forward to having some non-heat stressed plants growing for a change!

Seed Starting & More Mexican Vegetables

We are still planning on getting things planted around May 15th this year, so with that in mind we had to get some seeds started at the beginning of the week. (If you are looking for step-by-step directions on planting seeds, here’s my post from last year:

Because each of our garden beds usually has a different arrangement of plants, we have to divide all the seeds into how many of each plants we need. You can also see my notation of 1 seed per pot. A lot of people will put multiple seeds in a pot “just in case” a couple don’t grow. I hate to do that, because then I’ve got a bunch of plants in a pot that I can’t easily separate without damaging the roots, and I have to snip the extras out. I prefer to plant 1 seed per pot, but then plant an extra pot or two of each (depending on how much extra space I’ve got). So the tomatoes pictured on the left say “Plant 4” and what we really need is 2 plants. By doing it this way I know that we’ve got up to 4 healthy plants, 2 that we need and 2 more just in case. If only 3 of the 4 germinate, then I’ve already used up 1 “just in case.” It is pretty rare with fresh seeds to have poor germination.

We have almost 100 pots of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant for the garden this year! Because of the planned late planting date, we are also starting  a few other things indoors that wouldn’t necessarily have to be. Those include the Red Aztec Spinach, culantro (not to be confused with cilantro!), and Aka Red Shiso. The spinach and the culantro are for the Mexican garden and the Shiso is for the Beautiful Vegetables garden.

Here’s a look at the seeds of the Red Aztec Spinach (aka Huauzontle). They are quite small and look a bit like tiny snail shells. We actually did plant multiple seeds in each pot for these, since the seeds are so tiny!

The culantro seeds are also extremely tiny. There seems to be a range of seed sizes and shapes, which is unusual. Maybe the seeds weren’t cleaned very well? Again, we went with multiple seeds per pot.

I took a picture of the back of the culantro seed packet, since it has some interesting information. It is supposed to be more heat tolerant than cilantro, but I find it interesting that the seed packet suggests growing it in the shade…we’ll have to see how that works out!

As of today (Thursday) the Red Aztec Spinach is already growing, as are the marigolds for the edible flower garden. Everything else is still waiting to pop up. Of course, the jicama, thunbergia, and roselle are still growing too. Hard to believe that in about 5 weeks we should be out planting in our brand new raised beds!


Starting Jicama Seeds

In our Mexican Garden this year we are going to make an attempt at growing Jicama. You may have seen it in the grocery store – a big, tan tuber with crunchy white flesh. (Yeah, I know that describes a lot of tubers.) Jicama is a vining plant that produces the edible tubers at the end of its growing season, which is typically 7-9 months. Obviously we are borderline as far as getting a crop here!

We got the seeds from Bountiful Gardens, and even though we aren’t sure when we’ll be ready to plant outdoors, I decided to get these seeds going. It’s going to be tight getting them to produce this year anyway without creating any further delay. If they get too big before the garden is ready, we’ll just have to put them in a pot for the time being.

Before starting, read the back of the seed packet! There’s all kinds of good information there! For instance, we learn that it is best to soak the seed overnight before planting and to plant the seeds 1 inch deep.

Here are the seeds soaking in a cup of warm water. I started with the water probably about 95-110 degrees. (Same temperature as for yeast when you are making bread!) It cools down as it sits, but no need to change the water.

The light stand is finally looking less barren! It has had a much longer break than usual this year. I also planted the seeds for the Thai Red Roselle (Edible Hibiscus) and for the Thunbergia (Black-Eyed Susan Vine).

Next week we will hopefully start some hanging basket tomatoes to hedge against not getting the garden planted in a timely fashion this year. In a couple more weeks, we should be ready to plant the bulk of the tomato and pepper seeds – IF it looks like we are likely to have the garden ready to plant by mid-May. They have been making good progress on the classroom area structure, despite the rain. However, I suspect it will be several more days before it is dry enough to even think about laying pavers.