When you get the gift of 80 sunny degrees in late February, it means dinner on the deck, a fruit break on the front bench - and blisters on the hands! Sue and I dove into yard and garden preparations, and ended the day sore (it certainly uses different muscles to go yard work!), tired but very satisfied.
So, realizing that there may be nights when things get relocated to safer, frost free areas, we now have our ferns hanging on the front porch, miniature roses, chives, red sorrel, and a miniature potted clematis on the deck, and many other wintered over plants - such as our seed grown oleander - sunning themselves in the driveway.
Other tasks accomplished: The iris areas were raked out and dirt scraped from the rhizome surfaces, butterfly bushes, crape myrtle, knockout roses, Beauty Berry and hydrangeas cut appropriately back to a manageable height. We raked out our side yard shade perennial garden and back yard edge gardens. There is little to see emerging yet - Narcissus are budding, and Celadine Poppy and Jacob's Ladder is up and growing - and Bleeding Heart is just poking through the surface. Buddy (our male chocolate) is making quite a mess out of our backyard garden, so we will let him have at it - what grows, grows (just like last year). We also noted that some Phlox, Echinacea, and Columbine grown in pots are coming up well already.
All of my seedling flats spent at least part of the day in the sun - the tomatoes, peppers and eggplant now have that first important peek at the sun toward hardening off, and are progressing well. What I didn't get to you (perhaps today?) is a start on transplanting lettuce, beets, arugula, chard, Rabe and Asian Greens.
Finally - I told you it was a busy, productive day! - I planted the final tomato flat for our seedling sales; today I will do the final eggplant/pepper flat. Then....the fun begins as I plan for the additional tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant that represent my annual experiments.
What fun this is!
I know we are not out of the potential frosty temps woods yet, but the near term forecast looks pretty good, and I've got plants that are pining for a nice spell in the sun. So.....I just finished moving them back outside and giving them a good drink.
Here are pics of the seedling flats - the ones amongst the azaleas in semi-shade are the lettuce, pansy/snapdragon, sweet pea and Asian greens flats.
Here are some closeups of some of the cells - lettuce, mustard, mizuna, pansy and snapdragon.
The other two sunning flats (actually currently in the shade) are the initial hot pepper/eggplant, and the herb/flower flats.
Finally, there are the flats under the grow lights - one of peppers and eggplant, the other two tomatoes. These just came out of the office and off of the heat mats a few days ago, and need a bit of time before I ease them into the sun.
So, just a little bit of work lies ahead! Today I hope to start transplanting some lettuce and greens into 4 inch pots or plug flats. Also, I want to do one more flat of slow poke or no-show tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.
Then....next week I start thinking about the projects and experiments and get those seeds planted - as well as dig a few rows in the garden in preparation for beets, lettuce and greens.
I am a bit tired just thinking about it all (not really! THIS is fun!)....
When Patrina and I started on our world wide, all volunteer, all amateur project to create new dwarf growing tomatoes in 2006, we didn't have any idea of if, how or when it would succeed in the creation and availability of new tomato varieties.
But...as of yesterday, we are pleased to announce that Victory Seeds
in Oregon is the first company to carry some of the project's creations! I've created a separate page to describe the project - http://nctomatoman.weebly.com/dwarf-tomato-project-introduction-and-information.html
In that page you can find the background, rationale, and description/status of the project, as well as a list of the 150 or so participants all over the US - and the world! Hopefully, over the coming weeks, three additional companies will make available another six of our new dwarf varieties - so nine total releases this year, with more planned for next year depending upon the success of this year's progress.
All credit goes to Patrina for her support and great co-leadership - as well as creative ideas for the initial crosses, all of those involved in the growouts, and the tomato discussion website Tomatoville
and its leader, Mischka. The entire history and all results of the project are tracked there, and we are grateful for such a wonderful place to host our project.
Maybe it is my background as a scientist, or as someone who is insatiably curious (and gets bored with routine very easily!). But, each year I treat my gardening exploits like a big sprawling laboratory. Which means each season I make sure to try different varieties of familiar crops, as well as some things I've not grown - either ever, or in a long time. I eagerly anticipate the familiar - the many hued tomatoes, eggplant and peppers, the beans and lettuce, the squash - all of those items that make spring and summertime meals so memorable. But the unfamiliar is what makes me leap out of bed early to check on the progress - it is what renews my gardening energy and drive each season.
So, these are the things that I am most eager to observe and experience this year.
Brussels sprouts - I think I started these way too early, so will need a second planting....but having been introduced to these by our daughter (who loves them), Sue and I now crave them as much as any veggie - and this is my first attempt at growing them in the garden. I will experiment with different locations in the garden, and timings of set out - but the thought of harvesting fresh sprouts just after an autumn frost is exciting indeed!
Oleander - I've collected dried seed pods from Sunset Beach and Ocracoke....the Sunset Beach seeds germinated well last year, and I have six healthy plants, approaching 3 feet tall, in 2 gallon pots that wintered through fine in my garage. I can't wait to see them bloom - and have enough to try in different areas of our yard to test ability to winter over. I think that these came from plants with deep red flowers that grew in our friend Margie's beach house yard. Whether they keep that color - or were hybrid, or crossed with other varieties - will be interesting to see.
Annual flowers - I planted and have up and happy a selection of sweet peas, Dahlias, Zinnias, Pansies and Snapdragons, none of which I've grown before. Can't wait to see how they do, and the different colors to spread around the yard!
Of course, I always vary our tomato plantings, and this year am returning to the original cross from which Lucky Cross and Little Lucky were selected, to see what else I can find in the mix. And there will be more work advancing some of the new Dwarf varieties.
For the experimental hot peppers, I am going to focus on two general types - one I named Bouquet, but is still highly variable, and one that looks like the variety Black Pearl - and, again, is still quite unpredictable.
For sweet peppers, I will continue on with the stabilization of five new named varieties from the hybrid Islander.
That will keep me busy and motivated...and, by the end of the summer, happily exhausted!
So the dance begins....we get teased by warm days and above-frost nights - then Mother Nature remembers that it is winter, it is February, and the sub-32 lows appear again. So, out of the garage goes the lawnmower, and in go the Oleander, Lantana, Roses, Sweet Peas, Ferns, Walking Iris - and the flats of lettuce, greens, and flowers. Oh well....
I returned to find really good germination with my second eggplant/pepper planting, and both flats of tomatoes. The two tomato flats are in my office on the heat mats, but the peppers joined the other peppers and flowers under grow lights. I've got a half flat of seedling sales tomatoes to plant - and may fill it in with the stubborn eggplant and peppers that are no- or slo-shows in my flats.
Thanks to our good friend Margie, Sue and I (along with Mocha and Buddy) enjoyed a beautiful Fri-Mon at Sunset Beach...just a few pics below.
These are about a week old, but with the frost-free recent evenings, a few flats are living outside night and day.
Shown are the lettuce and greens flats, with close up of some of the lettuce, and Swiss Chard Bright Lights.
I could tell when I fed the dogs this morning - the air had that spring time smell that is hard to describe, but easy to identify.
So here is what I managed to get done today:
- set up a table in our front semi-shady natural area and moved the lettuce, greens and flowers flats there.
- moved the first eggplant/hot pepper flat and flower/basil flat into the garage, under the lights
- moved all the potted up plants that spent the winter in the garage out into the driveway - did some major pruning on them, tossed a few that didn't make it, and watered them well.
- planted two full flats of tomatoes for the seedling sales (see the 2011 seedlings list for the varieties that I planted).
Not a bad day's work....what I didn't get done (and will have to wait) is raking out of the perennial beds in the back and side yards, and heavily cutting back the butterfly bushes.
In a week or so I will start transplanting lettuce, greens, and beets, and begin to dig up the garden rows that will receive them once they are big enough.
There is a lot growing on in my office, under the lights in my garage, and now, outside in large pots. And I've not even planted my first tomato seed yet! (well, not quite accurate...I did plant some Mexico Midget seeds in the first flat, since they are so slow and stubborn to germinate!).
But....this is what was planted in my second vegetable flat over the weekend: Eggplants Antiguan, Casper, Early Green Giant, Italian Pink Bicolor, Listada di Gandia, Louisiana Long Green, New York Improved, Speedy, Rosa Bianca, and Rosita
Tomatilloes: De Milpa, Toma Verde, Purple and Cisneros
Hot Peppers: Ancho, Bulgarian Carrot, Facing Heaven, Golden Cayenne, Kung Pao, Malu Miris, NuMex Heritage, Peter and Thai Dragon
Sweet Peppers: all of those on my 2011 Seedlings list (see the tab at the upper right) - 27 different varieties
And, in another flat - a flower and herb flat - I planted:
Flowers: Four different types of Hibiscus - yellow, white, red flowered and a mystery variety; four types of Zinnias, two types of Dahlias, two Cosmos, a Marigold.
Herbs: Cilantro, Parsley, Sesame, and nine types of Basil.
Germination in the initial eggplant/hot pepper flat is proceeding well - I will provide an update in my next blog entry.
Outside, today, I planted three types of radishes - one each, in large (5 gallon) pots. The last two years, my radishes (planted in the large garden) were a disaster - nice, big tops, but for the most part, no root development at all. Let's see what happens when they are grown in containers!
Next garden tasks - which I need to get to really soon! - transplanting lettuce and greens...they are getting big (I will take some pics tomorrow and post them).
I hope people's garden plans and preparations are going well!
Now it really feels as if spring is on the way! I've been sunning the seedling flats when it is warm enough....and actually did some transplanting yesterday.
So...I am mostly done distributing seeds to various other gardeners and friends, which means those involved with the dwarf tomato breeding project have what they need to move things along this season.
I planted, today, the rest of the hot peppers, eggplant and tomatillos - as well as all of the sweet peppers for our seedling sales. I also planted the flat of flowers and herbs.....what remains are all of the tomatoes, as well as the usual eggplant and pepper experiments for my garden this year. By the way, the initial planting of eggplants and peppers is starting to show signs of life - about 1/3 of the varieties have germinated (today is day 6).
Yesterday I decided that, though small, it was a good time to transplant the pansies and snapdragons into individual plugs, and sweet peas into individual 3 inch pots. They are all now recovering under the grow lights.
That gets me caught up pretty well. I hope everyone else is looking forward to their gardens this season!
It is amazing how greens and lettuce can't wait to explode from the seed...but it takes patience with eggplant and peppers (though not much more patience - I expect to see signs of life in some of my cells any day!).
Here is what I planted on February 7 - the corresponding plug flat nestled on a heating mat, loosely covered with plastic wrap, in front of the south facing window of my office.
Bride F1, Ichiban F1, Lavender Touch F1, Neon F1, Ping Tung Long, Prosperosa, Ripples and Zebra F1. My rationale for planting these was mostly seed that was a few years old, or was slow or difficult last year.
Billy Goat, Bird, Bolivian Rainbow, Long Red Cayenne, Datil, Festival (dark leaf), Festival (light leaf), Filius Blue, Fish, Chinese Five Color, Gemstone, Ghost, Golden Habanero, Habanero, Hot Paper Lantern, Hungarian Hot Wax, Camille's Italian, Jalapeno M, Jamaican Hot Chocolate, Leslie's Anaheim, Little Nubian, Pretty in Purple, Pretty Purple, Purple Flash, Purple Robe, Red Habanero, Scotch Bonnet, Serrano, Skinny, Spectral, Tabasco, Trifetti, Variegata, Vietnamese Multicolor, Yellow Peter. I chose these to start earlier because they are either slower growing ornamentals or chinense types (the Hab family are all very slow to get any size to them), or older seed.
Mexico Midget - because it always takes forever, or my seed doesn't germinate well....giving myself multiple chances of having decent seedlings early by starting early!
Cossack Pineapple ground cherry - which are also very slow growing early on.
Wish me luck! Updates to come....