Monday, 30 April 2012

The Trouble with Tomatoes

I have a problem with growing tomatoes from seed.

It's hard to admit it, but I do...

The problem is that I keep starting them too early. 

Today is April 30th and they're already three times the size of what you'll find for sale in a nursery on the May 24th weekend (about when they can/should go out here.)

Last year was my first year of growing my own tomato plants from seed and yes, I was so excited I just couldn't wait. I started them on March 12th, the weekend before Canada Blooms. They were HUGE long before I could put them outside. There were more seedlings than I had space for. Potting in the next size pot up had to happen not once, but twice. When I moved them out to the cold frame they instantly filled it. And then some.

However, I had great tomatoes. The first one was in July and they just kept on coming.

But this year I vowed I would do better. No seed planting until after Canada Blooms. And Canada Blooms was 5 days longer this year than last year! Surely this would be a sufficient delay.

March 25th was bright and warm and clear. Out came the tomato seeds...

6 different varieties (yes, six. I couldn't help myself.) Five from Tatiana's Tomatobase (an absolutely  fantastic source of heirloom tomato seeds and information that I had the good fortune to stumble upon) and then my own saved seeds from last year's "Mortgage Lifter" tomatoes.

Into the trays they went, two seeds in each cell. Watered, covered with a plastic dome, onto a heating mat, and into the toasty boiler room.

Of course, within a few days, for every 10 seeds I planted at least 9 germinated.

But I was ruthless! As soon as they were big enough to shed their seed coats I snipped off one from each pair (I've read this is less disruptive than pulling out the ones you don't want.)

And now...

Now it's April 30th and I have blossoms already! This variety is Mennonite Orange.

All the plants are really robust...

I hope I'll be able to move them into the cold frame this weekend.

In case you're wondering about the orange snow fencing you see above and here in the full reveal of my "grow op"...
It's to keep out the furry members of our household...
Who me?
It's not pretty but it works. 

So far.

And yes, that is a fan blowing on the seedlings. I do this for half an hour or so a day (again, something I read) to strengthen them. If I don't have the time to turn the fan on I tap each of the plant stems with my fingernail a couple times (this is also supposed to strengthen them.) 

I told a gardening friend of mine that I did this and he looked at me like I was really crazy. And maybe I am when it comes to gardening.

But I'll have sturdy tomato plants with beautiful tomatoes on them...

...and next year I'll start my seedlings two weeks later. April 8, 2013 is now circled on the calendar!

Monday, 16 April 2012

Book Review: A New Leaf

A New Leaf: Growing with My Garden
Merilyn Simonds, 2011

This is my very favourite kind of gardening book—a gardener who loves plants talking about her garden, each chapter a little insight into some particular episode or season or type of plant. Even better, this gardener is an accomplished writer who has published several well regarded books completed unrelated to gardening. And, to put the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae, the garden of which she writes is located in Kingston, Ontario. I enjoy gardening books about the US and other corners of the world, but it's really delightful to read about something nearby.

I was actually surprised that this was a Canadian book. I thought I kept pretty close tabs on new popular gardening related books, but perhaps I slept through reviews of it in our Canadian gardening publications and blogs, or maybe it wasn’t featured prominently. When I saw the title come up on the Toronto Public Library’s online catalogue, I figured it was another U.S. gardening book, probably from the south, judging by the pretty white flowered tree and expanse of blue sky that make up the cover, but figured hey, it might be interesting, and clicked to place a hold. I'm very glad I did!

Simonds starts out the book with these lines: “I am not what some would call a serious gardener. I don’t know the Latin names of plants, except those that sound subversive or whimsical or mysterious…in the end I will do what looks good to me, because let’s face it, no bus tour will ever traipse across my white-clover lawn. I will never show my delphiniums at the fair.”  Well, after reading this book I’d say that if Simonds doesn’t warrant the title of serious gardener then neither does anyone else on the planet. She’s hard core—to the point that just about everything on her thanksgiving table (including the roast chickens) came from her garden—and I am sure that there will be quite a few garden tours from Kingston and beyond looking to traipse across her lawn and ogle the twenty six (yes, 26) garden beds on her property. In fact, sign me up for one of them!

I had to pace myself through this book. Both so that it wouldn’t be finished too quickly (it’s so disappointing when you find a book you enjoy and then it’s all done and you’re left with nothing nearly so exciting to read or do or think), and because my budget couldn’t afford it. You see, Simonds descriptions of the wonders of certain plants are so genuinely enthusiastic, and so captivating, that I found myself making a sudden trip out to the garden centre to buy a package of seeds I had to have, IMMEDIATELY. 

The book is a delightful read for any gardener, and especially one living in Ontario. There’s enough technical information to appeal to those who want to know the how to’s, but the book is bursting with lovely stories, perfect for whiling away a chilly afternoon. One caveat, the book should come with a warning: may inspire uncontrollable plant and seed shopping. And for Toronto gardeners coping with "pocket gardens" in the city, an additional warning: this book describes a gardener with enough land to grow twenty six large garden beds; hide your realtor’s phone number before reading!