Seedlings and Flowers

Once again I've been too quiet, but it doesn't mean that I'm not gardening. If anything, I'm too busy really to blog. Lots of stuff to take care of every day and each day I fall farther behind. My house turned into a greenhouse with all the seedlings. When it's warm and sunny I get them out on the porch, but at night they come right back. So my floors are all covered with the seedlings.
Some of them I'm really looking forward this year - melons for my hubby and watermelons for me. I just hope we have good summer for them as this area can swing either too cold or too hot and dry. 
And outside everything is in bloom. Cherries and Apples were blooming, tulips galore and lots of other flowers everywhere. 
So there you have it. Once something new grows,  I will try to keep you updated. For now, off to do some weeding!

World of Tomatoes

Tomatoes are very well known around the world and widely grown in open areas, greenhouses, pots, allotments and go back in history all the way to Aztec times when the word “tomate” were introduced to Spaniards and to the rest of the world.  Mention of tomatoes brings happy memories of sun-warmed sweet and tangy taste of summer, with wonderful aroma as you cut into the juicy globes for sandwich, layer it with basil and mozzarella, or just pick a cherry variety for your salad.

Little known fact: Tomato is actually a fruit, though we treat it as a vegetable, and it belongs to the nightshade family Solanaceae.

And with the Spring finally here, that means time to plant your tomatoes inside under the grow-lights or on a sunny south-facing window sill that will provide them with minimum of 8 hours of direct sunlight. If you have grow-lights then 12-14 it is even better for the plants.  Of course there is a big question of what kind of tomatoes do you plant. Tomatoes come in many forms, shapes and colors as well as multitude of flavors.   There are hundreds to choose from, and there are many festivals and fare dedicated to the this wonderful fruit, allowing people to learn about different flavors and even sample some of these to decide for themselves what flavor they like best.

So how do you know what to choose to plant?

Determinate vs Indeterminate varieties
Let’s focus on two main items first – Determinate aka Bush-type, vs Indeterminate – vine type. Why is that important you’d ask?  Because it would depend on how long your plant produces. Do you want a short bush that flowers and produces fruit all at once? Or do you want to have it spread out production through summer until the frost? If you’re planning to use your tomatoes for sauce for example, you would need a bush variety like Roma or plum-type like San Marzano, an Italian heirloom – excellent choice that’s commonly used in products such as pasta sauces, salsas and ketchup .   Bush tomatoes are also more commonly grown in the containers on a patio or a deck for those who don’t have a lot of space.
On another hand, if you want your tomatoes to produce enough for picking fresh for eating, salads and sandwiches, then vining tomato may be a better choice.  Indeterminate or “vine” tomato plants will keep growing up up to 8 feet high, and will keep producing until the frost. It usually requires sturdy supporting cage or a stake to tie down plant.  Plant will produce few flowers and fruit at first and will continue to produce pending no obstacles like disease or frost. It can be trimmed and maintained as shorter plant if needed.

Heirlooms vs Hybrids

There are hundreds of varieties of both bush and vining type available in the market, and it’s important to know what is best for your region and  your taste buds.  Many are “heirlooms”, meaning they’ve been growing without mutation or human manipulation for many decades. It takes at least 50 years for a variety to get tag “heirloom”.   They tend to be very flavorful and great tasting, but can be difficult to grow and require more attention from the grower.
A “Hybrid” tomato plant means someone had it modified or cross-pollinated with another variety to produce specific type of fruit. Most of the market varieties are “hybrid” because producers want a shelf-stable, uniformly round and predictably red fruit. In many hybrids, the original  intent was to eliminate issues like cracked green shoulders, or make it disease resistant to counter Blight or Blossom End Rot in plants.
Various cultivars
You should also consider what type of tomatoes do you want to grow, as they come in many cultivars with the most common being:
 Beefsteak – Large tomatoes, often reaching 4” in diameter and most commonly used in sandwiches. They tend to have thinner skin and shorter shelf-life.   With heirloom beefsteaks such as Brandywine, or hybrid Big Beef one can grow a wonderful tasting tomato.
 Plum/paste/sauce –  these are usually grown for low water and thicker meat to use for sauce or canning purposes. They are mostly oblong or “pear” shape, and also come in heirloom varieties like San Marzano and 10 Fingers of Napoli, Jersey Devil,  or hybrid Big Mama or plain old fashioned Roma tomato.
 Cherry – small and round, often much sweeter than larger varieties and great for snacking and for kids. Again many choices are available from  hybrid Sweetie and Sungold with high sugar content, to Black Cherry heirlooms one can have great selection to grow.
 Grape – smaller and oblong shape variation of a plum tomato but tends to be a bit sweeter. Tends to grow in large clusters, grape like format. Some of the varieties like Juliet can be used in both fresh eating and canning and sauces.  It is also favorite  with kids as they have sweeter than slicer flavor.
 Slicing aka “globe” – usually used in growing for commercial sales and mostly available in  hybrid varieties such as Early Girl and 4th of July.
 Pear – the name speaks for itself, as it is shaped as pear and can be small like Yellow Pear, or large like San Marzano and Japanese Trifele.  These also tend to produce large quantities of very sweet tomatoes, and favorite with children and adults for snacking.
And also many variations of Oxheart shaped that is heavy in meat and strong flavor, Campari  and tiny Tomberries that can be grown as novelties and for fun with kids as good container tomato.
All packets of seeds or plants already sold in marketplace also show how early or late each variety will take to mature from time of transplanting, and can be early in July, mid-season August and late varieties September. Gardeners should be aware of the days listed as it will help understand when to expect tomato harvest and not be disappointed that frost killed them before tomato have become fully ripe.
The variety name may also be followed by several letters. These letters indicate if that particular variety is resistant to certain diseases. The letter V indicates resistance to Verticillium wilt, F resistance to Fusarium wilt, N to nematodes, and T to Tobacco Mosaic Virus. It is highly recommended to choose varieties with resistance to diseases, especially verticillium and fusarium which may be problems in your garden.
Rutgers Recommended Varieties (Peter Nitzsche, 2003)
Days to Maturity
Vine Type
Disease Resistance
Fruit Size (oz)
1st Early
Quick Pick
2nd Early
Jet Star
Mountain Pride
Full list of most common varieties can be found here:

Disease and pests of tomato world

One very important factor for tomato growers is how resistant one or another variety is to certain diseases, to minimize loss of the tomatoes during growing season. All tomatoes vary very widely on this topic, but let’s focus on the actual diseases with resources available with Rutgers Fact Sheets:
·         {LB} Late Blight –  Late blight is the disease historically associated with potatoes and the Irish potato famine of the mid-1800's. The Late blight fungus can also infect tomato plantings. The disease will first appear as greasy-grayish indefinite patches on older leaves and stems. These spots enlarge in moist weather and may produce white fuzzy growth on the underside of infected leaves. The fungus will also attack fruit causing a dark, greasy colored lesion with a slightly sunken, rough surface on green fruit. These lesions may enlarge turning the whole fruit brownish-black. Infected fruit often remain firm. Severe infestations can cause the foliage to brown and shrivel.
·         Early Blight –  Early blight can infect tomato foliage and fruit. On tomato foliage, Early blight first appears as circular irregular black or brown spots on the older leaves of the plant. As these lesions enlarge a series of dark concentric rings develop in the center of the spot creating a distinct target pattern. Over time the tissue surrounding the early blight lesions can yellow and cause the leaves to drop. Severe infestations of this disease can cause 100% defoliation of the plant.
·         {V} Verticillium wilt – Diagnosing and Controlling Fungal Diseases of Tomato in the Home Garden 
·         {F} Fursarium wilt –
·         {A} Alternaria – Anthracnose fruit rot is a soil-borne disease that affects ripe tomato fruit. 
And don’t forget the bugs and common pests, such as:
·         Red spider mite –
·         Potato beetle –

In addition to the disease and pests, gardeners should look for signs of nutrient deficiency, such as Blossom End Rot. Fact Sheet is available on this topic on the web:
 The blossom end of the fruit blackens and becomes leathery. The problem is caused by a lack of calcium in the fruit due to variable soil moisture conditions. Prevention involves keeping the soil evenly moist. Mulches are helpful in this regard. Fruit is perfectly safe to eat.
Sunscald: This appears as a white or yellowish spot on the part of the fruit facing the sun. To minimize this problem, never remove mature foliage from the plant.
Catfacing: Misshaped, severely deformed fruit, more common on the large fruited or early varieties, resulting from incomplete pollination of the tomato flower due to cold conditions when flowering. To minimize damage plant tomatoes after weather warms, avoid using large fruited varieties, and harden tomato transplants by limiting water, not by lowering temperatures. Catfaced tomatoes are safe to eat.
Fruit cracking: May be expressed as either concentric cracks around the stem end of the fruit or as radial cracks radiating from the stem scar. Cracking usually occurs after a heavy rainfall following dry conditions. Keep soil evenly moist and avoid fluctuating soil moisture conditions.
All foliage, no fruit: This condition usually results from too much nitrogen in the soil, heavy rainfalls, or air temperatures too high (90°F) or too low (55°F) causing flower abortion. Unfortunately, you only have control over the added nitrogen. Avoid using fresh manure or fertilizer with a high nitrogen content (more than three times the level of Phosphorus or Potassium Gardeners can get more information on growing and diagnosing their tomatoes on Rutgers web:  and

So what will you choose to plant this year?

Spring planting and seedlings update

It's been another few long weeks, cold and pretty miserable on our part of the world. But finally snow has melted, first week with temperature above 40 during the day and lots of rain to wash out beds, trees and get things growing again. So how bad was that storm? Judge for yourself. My cold-frame was not really accessible for quite some time.
 But snow is gone, and first signs of life visible once again with first tiny flowers.
And I even tempted Mother Nature and planted first few greens outside on one of the beds. It has some spinach, both regular and strawberry types, and some broccoli and cauliflower.
I grew them at home as seedlings and then transplanted outside after hardening off for about a week.

And seeded some radishes, lettuce and more spinach. Also put some first peas but it might have been premature as we still get frosty nights. Hope they'll grow anyway because I'd love to have some fresh peas soon.

And at home I have some other seedlings minding their time. Bell peppers have taken off like weeds and growing nicely, lots of tomato plugs have been transplanted now into individual cells. Even few eggplants have started to grow really nice but have to remain sheltered until end of May.
So what are you growing this time of the year?