Preparing for 2012

December is the month of seed preparation and orders.  I’ve reviewed the information I collected in 2011 on which varieties did well and what kind of feedback I got from people who grew them out.  Despite the bad weather and poor condition of some of my inventory, there were some good success stories:

Kosovo was the most productive variety in the gardens of many people that I spoke to.  It had beautiful, large, flavorful tomatoes and really made a place for itself in my standard lineup.  I was very impressed by this large heart shaped pink.

Opalka continues to impress.  I also grew several other paste tomatoes, including Heidi and Sarnowski Polish Plum, but Opalka was the one I heard about from new customers.  All three of these will be in the standard varieties again for 2012.

Sungold is always a winner for cherry tomatoes.  Nothing beats this unique, fruity, sweet sensation.  Everyone ought to try this one.  It will convert even non-tomato lovers.

Dwarf Tomatoes from the Cross-Hemisphere Dwarf breeding project proved to be very robust.  Tasmanian Chocolate, Rosella Purple, and Dwarf Beryl Beauty were strong growers that produced large sized tomatoes in containers, with a little support.  I’ve pulled in seed from all of the new dwarf releases from the project for 2012 and hope to do some comparison.

Peppers, especially the sweet ones, were very popular with customers, despite the small size of the plants I had available.  For 2012 I will have more varieties of sweets, but more importantly I will be starting them earlier, with more heat, to hopefully get better size on them.  Although I’ve been growing large numbers of tomato plants for over ten years, I had never grown so many pepper plants, and 2011 was a terrible year to start with its record cold spring.  I’ll also be back with more Bhut Jolokia Ghost Chiles, for the most adventurous heat loving fools (like me).

Onions, which I brought in on a whim, flew out the door so fast they were mostly spoken for on the day I announced them!  I can get them in again, at $3-4/bunch of 50, but I need to get a quantity order in soon.  Most of the varieties performed great for me, but I’d like to hear more from those who bought them.  I’m also going to take another run at seeding onions, on the advice of a couple local growers I spoke to.

Was there anything that did particularly well for you, or that you’d like to see me offer this year?  Let me know, here in the comments, or at feedback@34.215.132.115.  I’m looking forward to a great garden in 2012!

Update – New stuff

Up to date as of 4 June 2011.  Sold outs marked in line, additions immediately below, tomato list at right updated with current inventory.

  • Purple Tomatillo $1
  • Red Rubin Basil $2/4 pack
  • Icebox watermelon $1
  • Cantaloupe $1
  • Petunia Dolcissima Amaretto $1
  • Red Nasturtiums, $2/4 pack
  • Brugmansia (Angels Trumpet) assorted sizes $5-$40
  • elephant ears in gallon pots, assorted, $5

 

I have the following varieties of peppers, $1 each:

  • Chocolate bell pepper (sweet) Sold Out!
  • Red Cherry (sweet)
  • Giant Aconcagua (huge peppers, sweet)
  • Fooled You (heatless jalepeno) Sold Out!
  • Trinidad Perfume (mild habanero)
  • Habanero (very hot)
  • Bhut Jolokia, Ghost Chile (hottest known pepper)
 

All of the following are in one gallon pots, $5 each:

Alstroemeria – Pink
Alstroemeria – Purple

Third year from seed, the Alstroemeria are blooming now, and will have additional blooms through the year. They are a tender perennial which will require mulching in a protected spot if you wish to overwinter them in the ground.  Most of these are either pink or purple.  They like sun, but prefer cool roots, so do well with an eastern exposure.  Some people grow them in pots and bring them indoors during winter.

Red Abyssinian Banana (Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’) is an ornamental banana often grown as an annual.  It grows very fast and large, becoming a dramatic, tropical specimen in the landscape.  These were started last year and have a strong root system.  They love water and respond well to compost and fertilizer, but are tolerant of a wide range of conditions.  They also have more limited root systems than other bananas and can be more easily grown in large pots.

Sold Out!

Variegated iris (I. pallida variegata) has striking white-lined leaves and beautiful blue flowers.  The other portion of the leaf changes through the year from soft blue to green.  These divisions are well rooted and many of them are about to bloom.  This variety of iris is very forgiving and can be transplanted any time of year.  I have grown it in both sandy and boggy soil, making it much more versatile than bearded varieties.  It rarely gets taller than 12″ or so.  Very hardy.

 

Spring Garden Day

Today I attended the WSU Benton County Extension Spring Garden Day.  There was a good turn out and I think everyone there came away with new knowledge and a greater appreciation for gardening.

I gave a presentation on tomatoes, which I think went well, though I regret not having been able to get to everyone’s questions.  I covered maybe half the material I had prepared, but given the time we spent in questions I hope it was the half everyone was looking for.  If you have questions about the presentation, or are just looking for more information on growing tomatoes in our area, please feel free to comment below, or write me at tomatoes@34.215.132.115.  (That would also be the address for tomato plant preorders and questions.)

Thanks to everyone who attended, and the the County Extension for having me as their guest.

Finishing the tomato plants

Hardening off tomato plants
Hardening off tomato plants

For the last week I’ve been moving plants out during the day and back into the greenhouse at night.  With a solid forecast of high nighttime temperatures I left 20 flats of tomatoes on the benches outside tonight, likely never to return to the greenhouse unless the weather turns nasty.  Another five will probably be moved out later this week.  Besides the flats that I’ve already sold off, that leaves 40 or so in the greenhouse for the next wave.  Each year I aim to have:

  • An early selection available in mid April for the people who just can’t wait to get them
  • The bulk of the tomatoes ready at the end of April for the last frost date
  • A set of stragglers for those who procrastinate, kill off their first plants, or come back for more.

It looks like I’m on track this year so far.  A warm spring has made it easy to keep things in the greenhouse happy and growing, allowing me to keep the temperatures in my target zones of 45-55F nights and 80-90F days.

Time to get tagging all of the tomatoes, take an updated inventory (I expect a 10% loss from germination to full-size maturity, but I’ve always come out well ahead of that) and start producing signage and explanatory material.  Also, I’m back to obsessive weather watching.

Tomato transplanting

tomato seedlings closeupTomatoes germinate for me in 2-10 days, depending on the temperature and freshness of the seed.  It is imperative that they get under lights immediately after they hatch or the stems will quickly become very long.  I use metal halide lamps with a daylight (blue) spectrum, which lets me cover a large area without needing the plants right up against the lamp, and additionally provides heat.  I’ve had better results moving the seedlings outside from metal halide illumination than from flourescent as well.

I usually wait to transplant until I can see the beginning of the second set of leaves.  This generally happens at four weeks from the time of sowing, but really it varies with the variety of tomato and type of leaves as well.  I can get away with this anywhere from 2-6 weeks, after which the seedlings start to deteriorate.

Tomato TransplantsI flood the trays with water about one hour before transplanting which loosens the soil and makes the seedlings easy to pull out.  They are planted in 1801 deep flats and buried as deep as possible without covering the leaves.  I use Promix BX for this, which has given me the best results of anything I’ve tried.  I can hand transplant about one tray every 5 minutes, which still adds up to 12 hours of work for the 72 flats I did this year.

Currently I don’t fertilize, spray or use any chemicals at all on the tomato starts while they’re in the greenhouse.  The inserts and soil are new and reasonably sterile and I’ve never had issues with tomato fungal infections in the six years I’ve been growing large numbers of seedlings at my present location.  I’ve thought about using an organic fertilizer, but really I don’t know what I would want to gain from it.  My plants are strong, vigorous and sturdy at the time they’re ready for sale.

Tomato seed sowing

Tomato seed flatsSeed sowing for me starts in January.  At the beginning of January I sow the the Tiny Tims and other very dwarf varieties.  Tiny Tim can produce hundreds of tomatoes throughout the season on a bush as small as a foot high and as wide.  By giving it an extra month, it will be almost as big as the other tomatoes when I’m ready to sell them, but be much more mature, producing tomatoes already in their little pots.

The next batch of seeds starts in the second week of February.  Most of my staples (those that I’m producing  72–four flats–or more of) are started at this time.  The last set of tomatoes is started by the beginning of March, and these are my new, novelty, and trial varieties, which I mostly grow for myself.  I aim to have tomato plants ready to sell by the middle of April, but I recommend that people wait until April 30th, our last frost date, to plant.  Last year there was a hard frost at the end of April and many people lost their new veggie gardens.  My own plants will not go out into the garden until May for this reason.

Seeds are started in small containers, 5″ x 5″, with up to 200 seeds each.  These are covered until sprouts appear, and then placed under lights.  This year I used disposable plastic containers because they’re cheap, easily sterilized in the dishwasher, have tight lids and fit nicely (4×2) into my 1020 nursery flats.