Welcome to NakedTomatoes

All about tomatoes, heirloom and home grown.
With a bit extra thrown in about Brugs and bread, growing and baking, and other semi-relevant thoughts. And maybe a few recipes.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Just another little meander down the path...

How to make it snow…

It’s a very basic principle, works the same way as ‘how to make it rain’ - which is of course: hang out your laundry!

In this case, start by getting your pots and starting trays out of the shed, drag out the greenhouse shelves and covers, and just to be really sure, go buy some potting soil and maybe some more seeds. This will work especially well if it is a gorgeous sunny day out, and smells like spring. Nothing like it to bring on another cold snap and a bit of snow!

I’ve got plans to build some low tunnels over my raised beds early this spring, in order to jump start the gardening season. The idea is that they will work as a mini greenhouse, right over the beds. I’m hopeful that I may get growing as much as a month to six weeks early this year, although that is probably pushing it. But perhaps with some cold hardy veggies, I can play outside, while the tomato seedlings are still sunning indoors. I guess we’ll have to see what the spring brings, weather wise, and the summer. I’ve heard rumblings of La Nina, and what she may have to offer us, so all in all, low tunnels are probably a good investment.

I also invested a whole whopping $0.66 in a pack of broccoli seed, and cauliflower seed (part of my ‘how to make it cold and snowy’ campaign). I only mention it because I had absolutely no intention of growing anything but a ton of tomatoes, some carrots, peas, beans, swiss chard, leeks, beets, radishes, onions, lettuce, peppers, zucchini, eggplant, cucumbers, corn, along with various herbs, annuals, and of course babying my brugs. Oh, did I mention tomatoes? A ton? Okay, so that may be a slight exaggeration, I don’t have the room to grow a ton of tomatoes. But I think last count may have been somewhere along the lines of 40 + varieties, which means at least 80 plus plants in my garden, along with all the extras I grow to sell and to give to neighbors and friends. Which always leaves plenty extra for me to harass complete strangers who are unsuspectingly walking down the street introduce new people I meet into the joy of growing tomatoes, and the reasoning behind heirlooms/OP’s.

I think the most fun I have gardening is planning my garden in the winter, and starting the seeds in early spring. Don’t ask me to post a pic of my garden in late July. Unless my darling husband (in case he reads this) decides to pull out all the corn again cause it looks like grass weeds the jungle, it is pretty messy by then. Because I have moved on. Have I every mentioned my astrological sign? I am a Taurus, but Gemini ascending, which translates into ‘I have the attention span of a gnat’. Seriously though, by mid July, garden fatigue, the heat, and the bugs have usually squelched my enthusiasm for my garden. I bounce back by mid to late August, just in time to start harvesting and canning (when it’s +33C??), dehydrating and freezing, and enjoying it again.

A camping vacation comes in handy right around the time garden fatigue has set in, and I don’t spend a moment worrying cause at that point I could care less because I have a fantastic house sitter/gardener/cat feeder, who lives right across the street. She comes complete with younger sisters and a brother, so excellent fall-back house sitters. And I get to spend a week with my family in the woods, swimming and fishing and hiking and stargazing, and I am so happy that I don’t have to answer the phone, or check my email, or listen to bad news on the radio, or fight traffic, and there’s nothing like sitting around a blazing fire at night, with someone you truly enjoy as a person, with whom you share a wicked sense of humor, and the kids are tucked away in their sleeping bags, and you shoot the breeze till the fire starts dying out, and it’s time to for you to tuck in too. That is the ‘ultimate vacation’.

So that’s what’s what for tonight.

Friday, February 8, 2008


Promised more tomato talk, so I'll start with some of thing that can go wrong with the new little seedlings. A lot of these tips apply to other veggies/plants too, not just tomatoes. This is just a partial list. I will try to add other when I think of them.

1.Dampening Off

This is one of the biggest problems, and probably one of the easiest ones to avoid. The seedlings appear to wilt, and the stems weaken. It is caused by fungi that is present in the soil which attacks the seeds before they germinate or shortly there after. The fungus thrives in the same conditions that the seeds need for germination, but excess moisture will exacerbate the problem. Many growers will advise using a soil-less mix, to avoid it. I've never done so, and never had a problem. Good air circulation is helpful, even if you need to set up a fan in front of the seedlings. There are products on the market specifically to kill off the fungi that cause dampening off, and I've heard positive results from people using chamomile tea when they water the seedlings. I think the best idea is to try to avoid the problem in the first place. Over-watering and poor air circulation seem to be the biggest trigger for this problem.

2.Over-watering or Killing Your Plants With Kindness part A

This is also a big problem for many growers. It is so hard to restrain yourself sometimes, you just want these little seedling to grow! But drowning your little seedlings is a sad way to end your growing attempt. Whether they are in small trays, or larger pots, the strength of the light and the indoor temperature will determine when and how much to water. Smaller containers will dry out much quicker than the larger ones. A good rule of thumb is to let the plant tell you. If they refuse to talk, then look closely at the soil, and the plants themselves. Smaller seedlings need more care, and should not be allowed to dry out completely. Once the seedlings are larger, and have several sets of true leaves, then a bit of stressing by underwatering is not a bad thing. The soil should be almost dry, and the plants should be almost wilting. It actually mimics what the conditions in the garden will be, and can toughen them up, or so the theory goes.

Part B


Generally, your seedlings will not require fertilizer, at least mot for the first little while. Check your growing medium before you decide. Are you using a seed starting mix? These will usually contain enough nutrients in the soil until the plants are ready to go out in the garden full-time. If you make your own mix, did you use compost or soil? If the plants look healthy and deep green, then I would skip the fertilizing. If they appear to be turning slightly yellow tinged, or if you started them way before the recommend 6 weeks, then you may need to reach for some food. Check out the organic options, even my local Canadian Tire carries a wide variety of product now, and generally the prices are comparable to the standard 'blue water'. --Miracle Grow--You can even make your own compost teas, if you have it on hand.

3. Lack of Light

For indoor growing, this can be problematic for many. As soon as those seedling emerge, they need all the light they can get. You can buy fancy lights, but I would not bother wasting the money. A simple shop light with fluorescent bulbs does the trick for me. I also use a couple of those fluorescent stick lights, and a couple of the hand held lights suspended above the seedlings. The lights should be as close to the tops as possible. Fluorescent shouldn't burn them, but if you're using other types, then just be careful to keep on eye on them. You may need to rotate the trays around, especially if they are in a window as well as under lights. You will find the seedling stretch towards the light, so to encourage straighter upwards growth, adjusting the light source and moving the trays around is your best bet. When they get transplanted, or go into the garden, I bury the stem quite a bit anyway so a little legginess is okay. Tomatoes will form roots along the stem that is buried, giving them a stronger root system so it's not the worst thing.

That's about it for tonight. One final note, I've found some really neat looking hoop cover kits at Lee Valley. I'm mighty tempted. I'm not sure how much of a head start that would give me in the garden, but I'd guess if the weather co-operated, and I incorporated some heating ideas of my own, I might be able to push a good three to four weeks ahead of schedule. That would mean planting out in the beginning to middle of May, instead of June. And that would mean I could be starting tomatoes pretty soon. That's such a nice thought when it's -15 outside tonight. Spring is nearly here! And I'll be waiting, open armed with plenty of tomato plants behind me!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Happy New Year...Here's to the Year of the Rat (or another brief intermission)

Nothing to do with Tomatoes, but it is the Chinese New Year, so I'll use any excuse to put off doing stuff that I should be doing (actual work), to spend time doing something I enjoy instead (writing, reading, chatting on the phone or on-line, looking through seed catalogs)! I'm really starting to dislike winter, it's been long enough now. But one thing I do like about this season, is having a roaring fire to heat the living room and sitting on the couch by the warm flames. Usually Simon is next to me, snuggling on the wool blanket and curled up against my leg, and I have my trusty laptop, well, where else but on my lap. I love the sound of the flames sputtering against the frozen logs as they heat up. I love to watch the flames flickering in the fireplace. There's just something so primordial about sitting by a fire.

I learned something important today. The more I learn, the less I know. Reading about tomatoes, and breeding and hybridizing, I realized how little I actually know. And I went to college for horticulture and landscaping! I took botany, and I learnt how to build a decent fence, and how to lay stone. But there really is only so much you can learn at school, and you should never stop trying to learn. I also spent four years at a university and then some, studying when I was much younger, and I'm not sure what I came away with, save my student loans. I picked up more skills and interests in between my schooling stints than I did during. I still have the love of literature, the love of baking (I worked in a bakery), the love of animals (vet clinic years ago and pets and horses), the love of writing (Thanks, Mr. Chiapetta, you rock), and I really wish someone would pay me to read and critique books. I mean, c'mon, how many people can read the entire Lord of The Rings (including the Hobbit) in a weekend? Isn't that a special talent? I think so! I should put that on my resume when I start job hunting next year.

Next post, will be about tomatoes. Promise.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Starting from Scratch...or Seed.....Part two

Anyone who knows me, knows I cannot resist a bad pun! This is my boy, Simon. He is the mellowest fellow, and I adore him even when he is being bad (like getting into my plants). How could I possibly stay mad at that face?

Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled program.........

Planting tomato seed is pretty much the easiest thing in the world. If you've decided to use the cell packs, then simply place one seed in the center of each cell, gently pressing it down just below the soil, and lightly cover it up. If you're using larger pots, you can plant a bunch of seeds in the pots to germinate, and prick them out and transplant once they have grown on a bit. Water very lightly to ensure the seeds are in contact with the soil, and will be able to absorb some of the moisture. Without water, the seeds won't germinate. Don't let the soil dry out until you see the seedlings but don't over-water so that the soil is sopping wet.

Some people use heat mats underneath the trays, or place them on top of the fridge for a bit of bottom heat, which will help speed up the waiting game you will now be playing. I don't specifically use bottom heat, and have never had any problems, but I'm using large greenhouse shelves, that I can close up at night with a light source, which does generate some heat and also retains some moisture. Just be sure that if you use a heat/light source, that it is safe!!! I can't stress that enough! Friends and fellow gardeners have shared many near miss stories, of creative ways they tried to use waterbed heating mats, for example, and nearly burnt their homes down in the process. You may also want to cover up the pots with plastic, or if using the greenhouse style trays that you can purchase, with the domes that come with the trays. Just remember to uncover them during the day, if they are in sunlight, because cooking your seeds will kill them, and that is exactly what will happen if they get too hot under the domes.

Light isn't necessary at this point, just warmth. The ideal temperature should be approximately 25 Celsius (75 F) Germination with tomatoes is usually fairly quick, between 5 -7 days. Once the seeds have popped up, then light does become the number one critical factor in strong and healthy seedlings. I use large shop lights with regular cheap fluorescent bulbs, and a few other lights sources to provide as much light as possible. The seedlings are in my south facing bay windows, so they get as much sun as possible during the day along with the supplemental lighting. The shop lights are hung so close to the seedlings that they almost touch. The one other crucial mistake that is often made, is to over-water the seedlings. Let them get almost to the point of drying out before watering again.

Once they've been growing for a week or two, they should have a second or third set of true leaves, which is a good time to transplant if you are using the large pots/lots of seeds method. If using the cells, then you can leave them safely for a while longer.

One final note, that I should have addressed first, is when to start your seeds. Six to eight weeks before your last frost date is the ideal time to start. If you are an impatient seed starter (as I am) then by all means, take your chances and play around. But remember that the ideal growing condition for tomato plants is outdoors, in full sun. Not very many homes can provide those conditions. And if you do seed early, you may want to try and sow some back up plants at the right time just in case.

Transplanting and trouble shooting.....next time, pardner.

Doesn't she look like she carries a six shooter in her hip pocket??

Mina aka CrazyCalico