The tomato seeds are starting to germinate in their trays. It has taken only 5 days! Still more to germinate but many are already up. A few haven’t germinated so I will replant if they don’t come up in a few days. They are under fluorescent ‘daylight’ T-8 lamps that are in a standard 48″ fluorescent light fixture that I got from Home Depot. They are also on heat mats and I have a heat mat thermostat set to 80 degrees. The heat mats and thermostat I got at Amazon. I never use to use a thermostat but one year without it, the temperature went to 100 degrees and the seeds fried. With a thermostat, it controls the temperature perfectly to whatever is the optimum temperature for each crop. In this case, the optimum range for tomato seeds for germination is between 70-85 degrees.
Every year it seems, I adjust my tomato seed planting schedule. This year is the latest I’ve ever started my tomato seeds-April 5th. Still trying to tweak it out about when the best time is to start them. If I plant seeds too early, the plants will get too tall before I transplant them outside in wall of waters. Last year I started seeds March 29th. So we will see how they do.
A couple of things have allowed me be able to start them later and get them in the garden earlier.
First, since I changed to Batch 64-Moonshine soil mix (from Agua Fria Nursery), the plants take off growing like a rocket as soon as they germinate. The list of ingredients in it is unbelievable. Once the seeds germinate, there is enough nutrients in this soil mix to basically fertilize your seedling for 6 weeks without adding anything else (except maybe liquid seaweed and Vitamin B at transplanting time to reduce transplant shock). Now I can plant them outside in 5 weeks instead of the 7-8 weeks in years past.
Secondly, I now start my seeds in these germination trays (see pic) where the cells are close together. The trays being shallower, seem to speed the germination process too—less soil to heat. These are a 20 row seedling flat.
Thirdly, it seems to be getting warmer sooner in the spring here in Santa Fe or at least that is my experience. Using wall of waters to protect the young tomato plants from cold nights, I was able to transplant my tomato plants outside on May 3rd, shaving 13 days off the ‘frost free’ date of May 15 that we have here in Zone 6b. They did just fine in their wall of waters. But last year we were in a warm drought and this year may be different with all the precipitation we got this winter. We’ll see.
And lastly, maybe, just maybe, I’ve become a better gardener through the years…
Get Ready for cold weather. We’ve been waiting all season for our tomatoes to ripen. What do we do when you know that a hard frost is going to hit and you still have lots of green ones on the vine? After ripening green tomatoes inside, I’ve had tomatoes into November and then I’m done. I won’t eat another tomato till the following season-July or August. A long wait but consider me a tomato snob as the store-bought tomatoes are never very good.
Tips on ripening tomatoes inside:
-Become a weather bug-we should check the weather for when the first freeze will arrive which historically comes mid-October here in Santa Fe.
This week Sunday through Monday is forecasted to get pretty cold at night–down to 34°F. This is not freezing (32°) but I will check the weather again on Saturday to see if it changes and if they predict a freeze or not. If it stays above 32°F, I will leave them as quite often we can squeeze out a few more weeks of decent weather for them.
-Pick em before the freeze-Pick all decent size green tomatoes and ripen inside. Leave the little ones. Ripening green tomatoes will never taste as good as sun-ripened tomatoes but they are still much better than store bought tomatoes. If you pick after the freeze, they will be ruined.
-Sort the tomatoes-Sort from rock hard green to almost ripe and put them in grocery paper bags and fold over the top. That way you don’t have to go through each bag every day and pull out the ones that are ripening sooner. Put them 2 layers deep.
-Use a slice of apple-In the bags with the green ones, I will put a slice of apple in the bag to help encourage ripening. An apple releases ethylene gas (the tomatoes produce this as well) which helps the ripening process. That is why you fold over the bag to help trap the gas that both the tomatoes and apple are releasing.
-Check bags every few days-When they start to change color, I pull those out and put them in other bags where they are all similar in the ripening stage.
-Leave them stem side up-they won’t rot as quickly.
-Almost ripe tomatoes-When your tomatoes are almost ripe, to increase flavor, pull them from the bags and place in a warm spot in your house a couple of days before you want to use them.
-Storage-Be sure to store them in a room that is at least 55 degrees. I made the mistake once and they didn’t have much flavor and many didn’t ripen at all. If they won’t ripen or aren’t flavorful they were probably stored in too cool a place or perhaps they were too small to begin with.
-Green tomatoes-Lastly you can always pickle green tomatoes or cook with them!
Better gobble up all the ripe tomatoes that you can! Soon the season will be over and we will be longing for flavorful ripe tomatoes again!
TOMATOES ARE FREE! FREE AT LAST!
Now that I’ve had 3 days with some rain and lots more in the forecast, and no leafhoppers in sight, I decided to free the tomatoes. If you still see leafhoppers in your garden, I’d wait a few more days. And of course some of you have already taken the row cover off but I like to err on the side of caution.
Now that they are free, I placed straw over the ground around the tomatoes so no dirt shows. This is done to keep the Early Blight fungal spores from getting on the lower leaves from overhead watering or even the rain. I noticed two tomato plants had Early Blight starting so I immediately cut off the yellowing leaves on the bottom, and trimmed all lower branches, making sure no leaves touch the dirt or straw. I disinfect my trimmers between trimming plants with 10% bleach-about 2 tablespoons in a container big enough to put my hand and the trimmers inside it since I’m reaching in around the leaves and it is contagious between plants.
Tomorrow I will spray all the tomatoes with Serenade, a biological fungicide that will help prevent Early Blight. Sure looks good to see the tomatoes instead of row cover! Finally I can see my garden grow!
Hang in there! According to the weather apps, we are almost into the monsoon season here in Santa Fe. Historically it starts around the second week of July-let’s hope so. I for one am looking forward to it-we need the rain plus I would like to see my plants.
So be patient if you have your tomato plants covered with row cover. Some of you may be tempted to take them off early but we’ve waited this long and we are almost there.
The row cover is providing protection for your plants by acting as a physical barrier between your plants and the beet leafhopper that carries a deadly virus called Curly Top Virus (CTV) if it bites your tomato plants. Some of you haven’t done this and you may be lucky or not. You will know in about 3 weeks. But the good news is the bug either leaves or gets suppressed when the monsoons come in earnest and only then do I take off the row cover. I wait till it’s gone. Growing tomatoes should not be this hard, but it is here in the southwest. The northeast coast has their Late Blight (which is worse) and we have CTV.
I’ll post when I take the row cover off the plants and we can actually enjoy watching them grow and produce tomatoes!
After a wonderful trip to Italy, I’m now back in the garden trying to get it finished. Seems I got a lot of dry beans in Tuscany at a Florence Farmers Market and have planted 4 different varieties-Fagioli Zolfini, Fagioli Piatellini Nuova, Fagioli con L’Occhio (a black-eyed pea) and Borlotti. These are dry bush beans. I love dry beans as I just have to plant them and after they are up, give them water and you don’t pick them till the end of the season after they dry. Not too many bugs bother them either at my place. They make great soups and stews in winter. So looks like this is the year of the bean.
But I have planted many other interesting crops this year as well. Other new veggies/fruits include the Bradford watermelon, Tahiti Butternut, a yellow zucchini called Rugosa Fruilana, Craupadine beets and my Fuggle hops and artichoke came back from last year and are doing well. Also 15 bare root raspberries I planted this spring are all up and doing nicely-the variety is Polona-I got them from Nourse nurseries online. My dream is to have so many raspberries I get sick of eating them (never!) And I’m starting a new thornless blackberry (Triple Crown) area in the garden. I got some beautiful 2 gal plants from Newmans for only $15.
And of course I have more tomatoes than I need but have cut down drastically since I am not at the Santa Fe Farmers Market. This year I’m growing more dwarf tomatoes than regular tomatoes and some of them are trials for Craig Lehouiller. All my tomatoes are caged and have row cover wrapped around them to protect them from the Beet leafhopper which passes a deadly virus to them here in the southwest called Curly Top Virus. The row cover is also great for protection from hail storms. It will come off when the monsoons arrive. Hope they do well and can’t wait to taste them. I haven’t eaten a tomato since last November when my crop finished as I won’t eat store-bought tomatoes. Guess I’m a tomato snob.
I’ve actually cut down the garden by 30% this year due to our drought. Pray for rain (no hail please!)
Since I’m involved in growing dwarf tomatoes for Craig Lehouiller in his project, I decided to grow some of his varieties of open pollinated dwarf tomatoes that have been released to the public. I got the seeds from Victory Seeds. I’ve never grown dwarf tomatoes before. All the dwarf tomatoes will get between 3-4 feet tall and are stockier than regular tomato plants. They are indeterminate variety so the they will grow like all other indeterminate tomatoes only slower throughout the season and will be shorter. Indeterminate tomatoes keep producing fruit till it freezes. The actual tomatoes on dwarf tomatoes aren’t necessarily smaller just because the plants are. The days to harvest can go from 65-80 days depending on the dwarf variety. I am trying 10 released dwarfs plus 6 more unreleased in trials for Craig. So I am heavily invested in the dwarfs this year but I am growing some of my all-time favorites as well.
I noticed right away that the dwarf tomatoes pictured above are shorter and stockier even just after germination. I start all my tomatoes in shallow seed propagation trays on heat mats with a thermostat and under lights inside the house. Because of their shallowness, the soil heats up faster so germination is faster but you must water them 2x a day. The two taller tomato plants in the background on the left side are regular indeterminate tomatoes called Lucky Cross, which is one of my favorites but notice the height difference with the dwarfs being much shorter and stockier. For earlier post on dwarf tomatoes, go here.