Tag Archives: tomatoes

Seed starting

Starting seeds this year was an interesting experience. I started tomatoes, leeks, sweet and hot peppers, butternut squash, watermelons, parsley, eggplants, and a few flowers (lavender, lupine, and yarrow) in early April on top of the fireplace.

Plastic keeps in the moisture

Plastic keeps the environment warm and moist

I saved plastic mushroom containers to use as seed trays. They seemed a good size and depth and it was easy to make drainage holes in the bottom. I also saved a few yogurt containers thinking I could use them for tall plants, like tomatoes, once they got big enough. I used note paper and taped labels to the trays, but they didn’t stay on. And I used leaf mold as my growing medium, which I purchased at Urban Harvest.

Seeds looking for light

Tomato seedling looking for light – mid April

Butternut squash

Butternut squash standing at attention – end of April

Watermelon

Watermelon – end of April. They didn’t survive.

I found the seed starting tips from Fine Gardening the most useful;  Mother Earth News and Rodale’s Organic Life also added some good information. The one thing I don’t think I did was fertilize the seeds, although I did buy vermicompost from Urban Harvest for that purpose. I also though this article on the benefits of cinnamon for preventing diseases in seedlings was really interesting; I want to try it next year.

Once the seedlings started to get bigger, I took them to my dad’s house. I don’t get much light in my apartment and having access to a house with a shady back yard  allowed me to harden them off outside for short periods of time.

Tomato plants by a sunny window at my dad's place

Tomato plants by a sunny window at my dad’s place – excited to see some true leaves! End of April

My dad was not too impressed with my plan to gradually increase their time outside by one hour every day over a week’s time (possibly because I was bugging him to do it), so they stayed out longer than they probably should have in some cases and in conditions that were probably not ideal (cold and rainy!).

Hardening off in the back yard

Hardening off in the back yard – I probably should have thinned these out. Early May.

At the end of May, I was able to hitch a ride with a friend to Hamilton (otherwise I’m not sure how I would have gotten the plants up there). They look much healthier having been in the sun for a while and their stems are nice and thick. I read that gently brushing your fingers across the leaves encourages stem development. Perhaps it simulates the plant blowing in the wind.

Box car Willie tomatoes

Box car Willie or red or yellow pear tomatoes – and a pepper plant in the centre.

Peppers!

L – California sweet and golden peppers; C –  habanero; R – mystery peppers

 

Knowing what I know now, what else would I do differently next year?

  • Use sticks in the soil to label the seedlings. At the time, I couldn’t find the tongue depressors I knew I had and didn’t consider that the paper and tape would fall off when I was moving the trays around
  • Bring the plants to a sunny window much sooner than I did. Maybe some plants would have survived (poor watermelons).
  • Thinned the plants, either by moving some to other containers or killing them off (probably the former. I have a hard time killing off seedlings). It probably would have caused less deformation, particularly in the tomato plants
  • Fertilized the seedlings. This probably would have made them stronger. I was a bit nervous about doing this. All the articles I’d read said to use a ‘weak’ tea, and the dilution instructions for the vermicompost tea bags and the even the kelp meal required steeping them in large quantities of water so I couldn’t do it at the apartment. That was really the only time I was thinking about it.

Starting seeds was totally worth it, as you’ll see in future posts!

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Merry Christmas

I’m happy for some much needed time off for Christmas, but it’s hard to get into the season with spring-like temperatures and no snow. Hard to believe two years ago we were dealing with the ice storm in Toronto when we’ve had double digit temperatures for the past few days.

The warm weather makes me think of gardening and reflecting on my experiences this year. I didn’t do much of it during the season, for reasons I can’t recall. There were successes and failures, as there always are. I tried a few new things that I hope to repeat next season. So if I can’t get into the Christmas spirit with these warm grey days, at least I can enjoy the colours of my garden bounty.

Merry Christmas!

End of season harvest from Hamilton garden, September

End of season harvest from Hamilton garden, September 2015: hot and sweet peppers, tomatoes, eggplant

 

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A new pest for 2015

And this seems to be the worst one I’ve come across so far: the bloody flea beetle!

Flea beetle damage on radishes

Flea beetle damage on radish leaves

They are decimating my collards in the community garden and other seedlings in Hamilton. They may not be new to the garden (I may have attributed the damage to another pest in the past), but they are certainly making themselves known this year.

Flea beetle damage on eggplant

Flea beetle damage on eggplant

Flea beetle damage on tomatoes. New tomato leaves seem to be OK for now

Flea beetle damage on tomatoes. New leaves seem to be OK for now

They are a real pain. I can’t get close enough to squish them, they just hop away. They are definitely the most mobile pest I’ve encountered.  You Grow Girl says that they don’t enjoy moist environments or shade, so maybe once things start growing and shading other plants it will get better. Diatomaceous earth, row covers, and sticky traps are useful sources of organic control. Radish is supposed to be a trap crop, so I guess I should feel happy that its doing its job.

I read this interesting article that stated tomatoes planted near collards will deter the flea beetle. This is interesting because I thought that brassicas and tomatoes weren’t companions. Maybe some cabbage family members are more of a problem for tomatoes than others (and vice versa). Anyway, it’s good news as I think I’ve planted a tomato near my collards because my brother wanted two tomatoes in the community garden instead of the one I had planned for.

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An experiment in containers

I finally planted the garden last weekend in Hamilton. It’s been a really long winter and not much of a spring. My uncle prepared the plots the week beforehand but I had planned to attend Doors Open (loads of fun!) so it got put off until last weekend. I suppose I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was, because my aunt had warned me that my uncle had already planted in spaces that were mine last year. But I had a plan all mapped out, and when I saw how many areas were occupied, I was pretty upset.

Probably the most angering - my $4 perennial rosemary removed for 4 thyme plants

Probably the most angering – my $4 organic, perennial rosemary bush removed for 4 thyme plants

I had tomatoes here last year and planned to put zucchini here this year. I guess it's still possible...

I had tomatoes here last year and planned to put zucchini this year. I guess it’s still possible…

I managed to get it together, realizing that there was more than enough space left and plenty of opportunity, and I became excited again. I could try container planting!

Tomato and basil

I had been wondering where to put the two red pear tomato plants I bought. Both are going into containers.

I bought a spearmint plant in Kensington Market. This will be a hanging mint basket once the peppermint I'm rooting is ready for planting.

I bought this spearmint plant in Kensington Market. This will be a hanging mint basket once the peppermint I’m rooting is ready for planting.

This mint is growing wild in the garden in small amounts. Once the roots start to form,  I'll plant them with the spearmint. I'm hoping for an abundance this year!

This mint is growing wild in the garden in small amounts. Once the roots form and I plant them with the spearmint, I’m hoping for an abundance for tea (and other things) this year.

Herb garden!

Herb (and red dandelion) garden!

Marigold container

I’m growing marigold for the first time. Hope it can still do it’s beneficial companion planting thing from a hanging basket.

Here’s what I did with the remaining ground space:

Peas my uncle planted at the back. To the left I put zucchini, at the front (from left to right) will be nasturtium and a borage plant

My uncle planted peas at the back. To the left I put zucchini, at the front (from left to right) will be nasturtium and a borage plant. I’m concerned the borage won’t have much space (because it gets really big) but I figured I could always trim it to maintain some control.

From left to right: Back: carrots, eggplant, Chinese five colour pepper, onions. Front: Leeks, beets, collard greens, onions

From left to right:
Back: carrots, eggplant (seed), Chinese five colour pepper, onions.
Front: Leeks, beets, collard greens, onions

I got these scotch bonnet peppers at Kensington Market. Thought it might be nice to try these heat-loving buggers in the greenhouse.

I got these scotch bonnet peppers at Kensington Market. Thought it might be nice to try these heat-loving buggers in the greenhouse. I planted a companion to the left (not visible) but I can’t remember what it was.

Regrets/concerns:

  • I should have planted the borage behind the garlic bed (I put spinach there) and put cornflowers next to the nasturtium and peas instead.
  • That the cheap plants I bought at Kensington Market won’t grow

Fingers crossed for much success this year!

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Harvest moon

In honour of the upcoming harvest moon, I thought I’d look back on some of the harvests of the season:

Red and yellow pear tomatoes. I think there's some dandelion under there somewhere...

Red and yellow pear tomatoes. I think there’s some dandelion under there somewhere…

It's as big as my forearm! And was mighty tasty despite its size.

It’s as big as my forearm! And was mighty tasty despite its size.

Zucchini blossoms bring some brightness to the green of the cucumbers, dandelion, beans, sage and chives.

Zucchini blossoms add a splash of brightness to the greens – cucumber, zucchini, beet greens, peas, mint, chives and thyme

All stages of the 5 colour Chinese peppers represented: purple, white, yellow, orange and red!

All stages of the 5 colour Chinese peppers: purple, white, yellow, orange and red!

Goodness from the roots: beets and carrots

Goodness from the roots: beets and carrots

Beet power!!!

Beet power!!!

Eat your greens!

Eat your greens – red romaine and kale from my uncle’s greenhouse, with some chives thrown in for good measure

One of the first harvests: onions, pear tomatoes, a cracked acorn squash, and some herbs

One of the first harvests: onions, pear tomatoes, a cracked baby acorn squash (my cousin hit it with the lawnmower by accident), and some herbs (sage, mint, chives, and thyme)

Feast-a-plenty!

Feast-a-plenty!

Happy harvesting!

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End of spring means sweet deals

I was in Toronto when my uncle returned last week. He was upset that there were so many weeds in the garden and that my cousin hadn’t mowed the lawn. That was my fault. I’d accidentally locked the shed door. The key had gone missing so we couldn’t get at the necessary equipment (the garden claw and lawn mower). I’d felt bad that I hadn’t gotten around to planting his okra as the plants were starting to look yellow. He planted some since his return and told me today he`d plant the rest tomorrow. He`s realizing now that space is an issue in his area.

Look at all them weeds. Almost didn't notice the spicy salad mix on the left.

Look at all them weeds. Almost didn’t notice the small light green patch of  spicy salad mix on the left.

I haven`t been spending enough time in the garden to really get at what needs to be done. This is evidenced by the fact that the tomatoes were getting out of control. One plant had even fallen over, it was so top-heavy.  I swear, I was watching them closely; removing the suckers every time I visited. I thought I was doing a good job of maintaining one main stem, but each plant has bifurcated and continues to grow new shoots in any way it can. Some suckers are so big and have tiny flower heads on them that I couldn`t bring myself to remove them. I`m really bad at a tomato management.

The plant to the back left has fallen over

The plant to the back left has fallen over

Technically you`re supposed to insert the stake right when you plant the tomatoes in order to reduce the risk of damaging the roots, which is much more likely when the plant is full grown. I tied them gently but firmly to the stakes using twine.

Looks pretty good!

Looks pretty good!

Tomatoes forming!

Tomatoes forming!

I’ve noticed that one of the strawberry plants is starting to lose its leaves. I’m wondering if the weeds are strangling its roots.  Sure, it’s still forming and ripening berries, but for how long? I’m planning to do some weeding on the weekend now that the shed is accessible. Apparently they never found the key and had to cut the lock.

Strawberry plants in May

Strawberry plants in May, when they were first planted. The one on the right was the first one I planted. It was less mature than the one on the left.

You'll notice the weeds all around and the fact that the foilage is not as dense as it once was

The first strawberry plant I bought. You’ll notice the weeds all around and the fact that the foliage is not as dense as in the picture above (and no, it’s not the angle. It is much thinner).

On a positive note, Urban Harvest was having a plant sale as this is the last week their physical store would be open for the season. The sale started last weekend: 3 perennials or 4 annuals for $10. I didn’t make it on the weekend and my week was filled with after work activities. But what a deal! I couldn’t miss out…

I managed to get into union station in Toronto at 5pm on Monday. My aquafit class started at 6:30 so I took a chance and took the subway north to Dundas West station. I was in such a rush that I ended up getting 3 perennials: rosemary, lavender, and yarrow, and only 2 annuals: nasturtium and cilantro.

Left to right: yarrow, rosemary,  lavender, cillantro, nasturtium

Left to right: yarrow, rosemary, lavender, cillantro, nasturtium

The staff were nice enough to give me 2 annuals for $5 rather than $3.50 each. By the time I left, it was 6pm. As I ran to the subway, it briefly crossed my mind to go back and see if I could get the 5 for $10 deal because I wouldn’t make it all the way to the east end in 30 minutes.  I should’ve listened to that thought because I didn’t make it to class. I was kicking myself for a few days. But I suppose it was a blessing in disguise. I don’t really know where I’m going to plant what I bought…

Close up!  I can almost smell them...

Close up!
I can almost smell them…

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“Mysteries” of the garden

My cousin picked me up from work on Friday so we could check out the organic farmer’s market on scenic drive. It was a pretty small market, about 6 vendors outside Scenic Drive Convenience Store, at Scenic Drive and Upper Paradise Road. She’s trying to lose weight for a wedding in August by increasing her consumption of greens and veggies. She’s decided that heirloom vegetables are what she wants to eat. It was funny to note that she had no idea that I was using organic and heirloom seeds and plants in the backyard. She picked up some kale and greens from Japan (looked like bok choy and name begins with a K). I was happy to sample blueberry pie and apple strudel while she made her choices and I learned from one of the farmers that a plant I had picked on the trail near James street stairs was from the spirea family (he was selling some). I’m trying to see if I can root it for transplant.

Not long after we came home, the sky turned dark. Storm clouds rolled in and the rain started coming down sideways. I was disappointed. I’d planned to quickly plant another strawberry that I picked up at Urban Harvest on Wednesday, take stock of what was going on in the garden, and then head back to Toronto. About an hour, tops. It had been a long week of commuting after recovering from a cold that had kept me off work last Thursday and Friday and in bed for most of the weekend. I wanted to head home at a reasonable time so that I could relax and enjoy my weekend. However, I wasn’t prepared to travel home in a storm so resigned myself to staying the night. I was dying to see what was happening out there so when the rain let up, I went out to check things out.

Snail on the prowl

Snail on the prowl after the rain

The first thing that caught my eye was mysterious little sprouts all across my beds. And then I remembered that my cousin had warned me – “don’t blame me…” she had started. My uncle had decided before he went away for work again (he goes every other month for a month) that he would sprinkle down “mystery” seeds in every space that was unoccupied. This included walkways.

My uncle's "sprinkle" method inside the greenhouse

My uncle’s planting method inside the greenhouse. This is how I knew he was to blame for what I saw below…

"Mystery" seeds around my tomatoes!!!

“Mystery” seeds around my tomatoes!!! Argh!!!

Clearly he doesn’t understand square foot gardening method. And, as I mentioned, he likes to do things his own way. Well, so do I. I had planned to put some companion spicy salad greens and basil on every corner of the tomato plants (ie. 4 plants to one tomato plant) so I proceeded to do so. We’ll see whose seeds to better. Did I mention I was stubborn?

Some plants are doing quite well after about a week and a half. Others not so well.

Onions are doing well

Onions are coming along

Apparently I didn't need to worry about the zucchini

Apparently I didn’t need to worry about the zucchini. I’ll have to remove the smaller plant.

One of two pea plants coming up.

One of two pea plants coming up.

I was disappointed to find that neither the butternut squash nor the nasturtium had come up so I planted more seeds. Also, surprisingly, no borage! That stuff grows like mad. I planted a few more seeds near the strawberries. I also put down some spinach because I had seen in one of the companion planting charts that it was a good companion for strawberries.

This strawberry plant is larger than the first one I bought and has a small strawberry growing already.

This is the first strawberry plant I bought. It doesn’t seem to be doing much right now. The new plant I ot is larger and already has a small strawberry growing on it.

It’s a mystery why some plants do better than others. A combination of seed issues (eg. germination rates),  soil and weather conditions, water,  pests… Nevertheless, nature always finds a way to reproduce. I have a feel that although some things are coming along more slowly than I had expected, it will be a very productive garden. I also have a feeling that I’ll have to put in a lot more work than last year. Damn.

My uncle's okra are really coming along.

My uncle’s okra are really coming along. I wonder where he’s going to put them…

My uncle's section of the garden.

My uncle’s section of the garden.

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