Monday, February 9, 2009
Yes, you heard me right. The 2009 Summer Garden is now planted -- and better yet -- it's growing.
If you're wondering if RIGHT NOW is the time to plant summertime favorites like tomatoes, cucumbers and corn in the backyard the answer is NO! WRONG! Not after a weekend of rain and cold weather like we had this past weekend in the Sacramento area.
Don't get me wrong -- we need the rain. We need the snow. We'll really need it later this summer when thirsty Southern California starts demanding a supply of Northern California's clean, fresh and tasty water supply. So, let it rain, let in pour. More importantly, LET IT SNOW!
But there are some things that gardeners can do INDOORS to start their OUTDOOR summer garden. And that is taking place in greenhouses, homes and even workplaces across the Sacramento Valley area. In short -- it's time to plant some tomato seeds.
Want to get an early start on tomato season? Do you desire a fresh-off-the-vine heirloom tomato in JUNE? Then, the time to plant is now -- and as you can tell by the photos -- the planting effort is already underway.
The greenhouse you see pictured belongs to none other than Master Gardener Extraordinaire, and "Fruit of the Heirloom" (FOHL) charter member Fred Hoffman, host of the highly popular "Get Growing with Farmer Fred" radio programme on NewsTalk 1530, KFBK and also Talk 650, KSTE.
And Fred has one big advantage that I don't have -- YET. It's called a greenhouse. And this is almost essential to getting plants started early. As I said, it's almost essential. I know one other grower (Nels Christenson) who starts his seeds in his work office. Venus and I start our seeds in a spare bedroom, using a converted wine rack.
BUT -- if you're going to do some large-scale growing of tomato plant starters -- well -- you can't lose with a greenhouse. There, you can easily control the elements of heat, light, moisture, fertilizer and other issues that are so important when it comes to starting tomato plants. And you don't have to deal with curious and sometimes BRATTY cats who think it's just enormous fun to whack plant-starter pods from one side of the room to another.
But, provided you plant NOW, and provide the cats with some new toys in hopes that they'll leave the starter pods be, you'll see your planting efforts germinate in less than a week. Tomato plants are like weeds. They germinate quickly and grow rapidly. In short, you can't possibly screw this one up, even if you're a beginner. To be honest, you don't even need grow lights. You can start seeds in a windowsill.
The seed cups you see pictured here were planted ten days ago, and they've already germinated. These cups, and a lot more like them, contain forty to fifty varieties of heirloom and hybrid tomato plants. Heirloom varieties with names like Brandywine, Azoychka, Opalka, Clint Eastwood's Rowdy Red, Black Krim and many more have already sprouted and are growing like mad.
These starter plants will be kept inside for the next two to two-and-a-half months. By mid-April, the starter plants will be at least a foot high, and possibly a lot more. In short, planting in February gives you a tremendous head-start on the summer growing season, which can be very long in the Sacramento area. If Mother Nature cooperates (which isn't always the case), you can be rewarded with a six-month growing season. And that means multiple harvests.
It seems hard to believe that the small cups pictured in Farmer Fred's greenhouse will be growing tomatoes larger than grapefruit, but that's just one of the wonderful, wild and wacky things about growing heirloom tomatoes...