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Friday, February 22, 2013

Starting Tomatoes Indoors: 3 Key Factors

Some Information to Consider When Starting Tomatoes Indoors 
(Days to Maturity and Soil Warmth)

Tomatoes are a favorite of many if not most gardeners. Even if you don't like to eat them... growing a 6 foot plant with 50 pounds of tomatoes on it is rewarding.  Rewarding, if not for the sheer size of the plant, your neighbors will love you for what you produce and give away.

I will be blogging and making videos this year based on what I am actually doing in my garden. Now is the time to start thinking about tomatoes (Zone 7ish) if you are going to be starting them indoors.

 When to Start Tomatoes Indoors

I often get asked, "When should I start tomatoes indoors?" The answer is based on when you want to get them outdoors.  So... when do you want to get them outdoors? Do you want to use containers or earth beds? Do you want to be the first on the block to have red tomatoes? Do you want to use solar warmers, hot-house cages or other tricks to keep tomatoes warm so that you can plant early?

Fresh from the Garden (Soon!) - The Rusted Vegetable Garden Blog

The answer for tomatoes is 6-10 weeks before they would go outside. If you don't have the capacity to manage larger transplants indoors or protect them, then you  want to start them 6-8 weeks before they would go outdoors. If you have the capacity to manage larger transplants then 8-10 weeks will work.

 Days to Maturity and Soil Warmth

Let me give you some basic information to help you decide on seed starting time. Most tomatoes will say X amount of time until maturity. That can range from 55 days to 90 days. What is important to realize is that the maturity date, for example '60 days to maturity', is from the time the tomato transplant goes into warm ground. It is not the date it is planted as a seed nor the actual day it goes outdoors into cool ground. Warmth is key.

Tomatoes love the warmth. But we often confuse 50-60 degrees days as good for tomatoes. It is, but the soil temperature is the key to getting your tomatoes growing and getting that 'X days to maturity' counter ticking. The ground, either containers or earth beds, really needs to be around 60 degrees. Tomato plants will not actually sit dormant in cool soil, they just won't start effectively growing. The timer is not on!

They won't really start growing until the soil warms nicely. There are tricks you can use to help with warmth but that will be the subject of other blog entries and videos.

A Garden Tip: black plastic trash bags placed on the ground will absorb heat and warm the garden soil. You can secure a bag  down with stones and cut a planting hole in the middle of it.

For now, it is time take this information into mind and figure out a plan for starting your tomatoes indoors. If you have questions feel free to leave me a comment. In very little time, we will all have bowl fulls of tomatoes like this... This season is beginning! Good luck in 2013.

Last Year's Tomato Harvest - The Rusted  Vegetable Garden Blog

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

For Hot and Humid Gardens: Try 'Homestead' Heirloom Tomatoes!

 'Homestead' Heirloom Tomato: 
Great for Hot and Humid Gardens!

It is cold and rainy here. Up north they are digging out of a blizzard. What better time to look at a video on the 'Homestead' heirloom tomato and imagine the warm spring. February is a good time in many parts of the US to start planning out your spring garden. I have ordered many catalogs and made circles on some new tomato varieties for the 2013 season. One variety I collect seed from and grow every year in my garden is the 'Homestead' tomato.

The 'Homestead' is a semi-determinate plant which means it is between a determinate variety that sets all its fruit at once and dies and an indeterminate variety. Indeterminate varieties continue to grow and set fruit until the frost comes and kills them off. This plant produces a lot of 6-8 oz fruit and grows to about 6 feet. The plant in the video produced a lot of tomatoes (40-60) over the season. That was my best year for the 'Homestead'. What I like about the semi-determinate variety is that it will produce steadily over the season and it stays around 5-6 feet tall. It just doesn't get out of control like some indeterminate tomatoes do.

Tomatoes like warm soil but a lot of tomatoes won't set fruit or die back a bit when the temperatures hit mid 90+ degrees for consecutive days. The 'Homestead' doesn't mind the heat and does much better at setting fruit at high temperatures. Humidity... if you have it in your area, you know hot humid weather can create havoc for your garden tomatoes. Again, the 'Homestead' heirloom tomato does better than most in humidity. That is why I collect seed from these tomatoes every year and continue to grow them.

This video highlights the 'Homestead' heirloom at full maturity and the end of the video shows you picked and sliced tomatoes. Consider it for your garden! It is a great all purpose tomato.

Good Luck in 2013!

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Start Pea Seeds Indoors and Save Time!

Seed Starting Peas Indoors & Container Plantings

I once believed peas were fragile and could not take frost. I was wrong. I once believed peas should not be started indoors. I was wrong. Peas are a great early spring, late winter, crop that can take light frost and they do well when started indoors.

Peas can handle the cold. They can't handle prolonged freezing temperatures and that is what I have in my area right now. But I can start them indoors, transplant them into containers and move them in and out of my house as weather dictates.

Why do this? I can get peas a full month early! Peas can be grown in containers as the weather creeps back into the 40's. They will grow extremely well. The earth beds, and even raised beds, are often too cold and too soggy during this time. Peas planted in soggy cold earth will typically mold and rot. That is were indoor seed starting and container plantings for peas come into action.

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Monday, February 4, 2013

Using Cinnamon to Prevent and Stop 'Damping Off' Diseases on Seedlings

Using Cinnamon to Prevent and Stop 'Damping Off' Diseases on Seedlings

Cinnamon has some anti-fungal qualities and it smells great as a bonus.

'Damping Off' diseases are the bane of seedlings. It is the gray white furry fungus that forms on the stems of your seedling right where they meet the starting mix. It happens because the conditions are right. I recommend against using clear plastic domes because it creates a perfect humid disease environment. Most fungi and related need moisture to spread. However, even without the dome... some seedling cells get the disease. Notice the dead thin stems at the base of my flower seedlings.

'Damping Off' Diseases
I have about 8 flats going without the dome. You want the top soil/starting mix to be dry as so it doesn't promote disease. Bottom watering keeps the cells moist.  I practice 2 principles to reduce 'damping off' diseases and I want to introduce a third that I think makes great sense and it is logical.
  1. Water from the bottom
  2. Don't use the plastic dome
  3. Sprinkle cinnamon on your seed cells
Why add a third? Some of my cells still got fungi. Not many - but enough. The reason the diseases didn't spread like wild-fire was because I practice the first 2 principles. I added a sprinkle of cinnamon on the cells that got the disease. Out of 8 flats which is about 250+ cells, only 5 got the disease. It killed the seedlings. 

Cinnamon to Treat & Prevent 'Damping Off' Disease'
I sprinkled cinnamon on the infected seedlings as a way to kill off the fungi or 'damping off' disease and stop its potential spread. You could also lightly sprinkle your starting mix with cinnamon right after the seeds are planted. I have not  done this yet but will be doing it. You can, in addition, also use the cinnamon at first signs of the disease and sprinkle the infected cell and surrounding cells. That is your choice. I think cinnamon makes a great third defense against diseases that may attack your seedlings.

Seedling Fungi
'Damping Off' Diseases on Seedlings

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Videos: Growing, Tending & Pruning Tomatoes

Complete Guide to Starting Tomatoes Indoors

How to Grow Large Tomatoes in Containers

Growing Brandywine Tomatoes

How to Build a Hot-House Tomato Cage

How to Transplant Tomato Seedlings into Cups

How Prune, Stake and Remove Suckers

Using Grass Clipping for Mulch and a Soil Barrier

Single, Double and Triple Tomato Stem Pruning

The Baxter's Bush Cherry Container Tomato

Complete Guide to Growing Heirloom Tomatoes

The Kentucky Orange Heirloom Tomato

Our Tomato and Vegetable Garden - Pinterest Board