She's Got Legs

Thursday, February 24, 2011

2011 Heirloom Tomato Plant Starters
As you can plainly tell in the photo to your immediate right -- yes indeed -- it's true. My babies have "legs." In other words -- they're "leggy."

And you thought this post was going to be exciting. I am such a tease. No such luck here.

The 2011 heirloom tomato growin' season is now underway in a Bird bedroom -- tucked inside a home on our North Natomas Back 40. Despite the tough January -- followed by an excruciating February -- the wifey and I found time to do what we do best: plant tomato seed and grow "leggy" tomato starters.

I must admit -- there's nothing special about our seed starting efforts this year. We simply did not have the time to "build" our own soil from parts of this and that. We didn't have the time or energy to plant row after row of scrumptious tomato starters. Nope -- what you see is what you get. The first 30 cups were planted on Super Bowl Sunday -- about three days before Venus' father took his last breath.

We finally got around to planting the last 20 cups a few days ago. They haven't germinated like the others yet. But -- give them time. They will eventually spring to life.

This wasn't part of my "master plan." The so-called master plan was to build a seed starting rack this year -- a rack big enough to holding 80-to-100 cups. But I never did get around to building that rack. The man who used to help me with these woodworking projects has since passed. This means I'm on my own for next year.

I won't lie. That thought is just a tad scary for me. But, life goes on right? The old man would have demanded as much. So we march on and persevere.

Sacramento gardener extraordinaire Angela (Angie) Lyons -- who gifted us last year with the most beautiful tomato starter we received (a Dr. Wyche's Yellow) -- tipped me on a mail order place that sold the coveted green azalea starter cups in whatever number I wanted. The soil we're using came from a bag of normal Miracle Gro planter mix that I purchased for the wife last year and she never got around to using.

I had my doubts at first. A six month old bag of Miracle Gro planter mix that has been through its share of early rain activity tends to have a fine growth of moss on it. But -- any worries I had about germination problems have been put to rest. The first to spring to life was the Kelloggs Breakfast. Others soon followed and I'm happy to report that we achieved 100% germination success this year.

That's a first. Perhaps that moss wasn't such a bad thing after all. I'll make a mental note of that.

The seeds that I planted have all developed their first true leafsets -- and are intent into growing right into the light systems propped up under a seed starting contraption composed of nothing but bits and pieces of old PVC pipe  and pipe fittings that I had lying around the backyard. They're not glued together -- which means I can take this contraption apart in the late spring and store it in an ordinatry shoebox.

PVC "Contraption" complete with Gro Lights

The 4.5 inch azalea cups I'm using are stacked into what are called "shuttle trays." I quickly learned that the term "shuttle" is an English term. While these things were easy to find and order through any British manufacturer -- I couldn't find anything comparable closer to home. That's when I discovered that the term "shuttle" didn't exactly make it across the pond. These trays -- which hold ten of the 4.5 inch azalea cups -- are referred to as "gardening" or "display" trays in the States.

Aren't you glad that you asked?

These trays will come in handy when it comes time to move the starter babies inside and out during the warmer spring months. Instead of attempting to move 50-60 individual cups, the wonderful wife that is Venus and I will only be required to hoist a tray or five outside.

Tre' Easy.

When will we move the starter plants to the outside world? That's a tricky question. If it's a normal year -- with normal conditions -- we will start giving our starter plants a taste of the outside world around the beginning of April. But -- since no year is "normal" -- this is a trick question. When the weather warms to suitable temperatures -- and night-time temperatures no longer sink to bone-chilling levels -- then "it's time."

Until then? We'll keep the babies safe. We'll keep them warm. We'll keep them watered. We'll keep them fed.

And we'll watch those legs develop.

As for what we're growing this year? A "partial list" is below:

TOMATOES (not in alphabetical order, I'm too tired):
Black Krim
Eva Purple Ball
Kelloggs Breakfast
Virginia Sweets
Marianna's Peace
Lemon Boy
Mortgage Lifter
Yellow Brandywine
Beefsteak (a Gale Stromberg favorite)
Evil Seed
Amish Paste
Super Sioux
Royal Hillbilly
Hendersons Winsall
Cherokee Purple
Omar's Lebanese
Mortgage Lifter
Campbell's 1327

Purple Jalapeno
Mucho Nacho Jalapeno
Big Bertha (purple Bell)
Green Bell Pepper
Golden Cal Wonder (Yellow Bell)
Purple Beauty Bell Pepper (Red Bell)


One final note: Many people have asked me, "why grow your own? It seems like a lot of work. Why not just buy your starters at the nursery?" Each and every question is a good one. The answer is simple: We're INSANE!!!

Actually -- that's not quite the truth. The real truth is that most nurseries do not offer nearly the kind of selection that we've planted. You're simply not going to find a Lemon Boy or a Marianna's Peace at your local nursery. You will find a few of these -- to be sure. But if you want the best that heirloom tomatoes have to offer -- the answer is simple.

You grow your own.


Garry said...

i agree on the 'why' - although keith grows my seeds, i spend about the same amount of dollars buying seeds and getting varieties i cant get locally; so its really zero sum from a money perspective. best of luck to your 2011 garden - hopefully your bees are doing well.

Shantihhh said...

Yep they are leggy. Maybe a touch of sea weed/kelp or when you transplant just plant deeper.

I have no babies yet.

Waiting for snow tonight, burrrr, this is California?

Mary-Anne in Alamo


My lettuce has legs up to here. Thanks for reminding me that I need to start some peppers.

Jeanette Crumpler said...

Hi Bill:
I've read your posts on TomatoMania a lot. I used to grow 300 or so tomato plants of all kinds for test trials & personal & friends, etc. So much fun to do. Always learn more info on tomatoes tho' I've been growing them, raising them, etc. etc. for over 70 years. Still, one is never too old to learn about gardening..thank you, Thomas Jefferson kinda quote!
I'm only growing some leftover Mortgage Lifters but will also buy a couple of dozen mater plants & a few others in April.
Regards & thanks for the interesting blog page.
Jeanette in Dallas, TX Zone 8

Tempestt said...

Hi Bill and Venus,
I am sure the "old man" is right there with your leggy babies and approving your efforts.
How did you like the Mortgage Lifter? I'm trying to decide my selections this year. Lemon Boy is a must. Looking for a red one. Your advice appreciated.

Bill Bird said...

Tempestt (is in Tempestt in a teapot?) -- I've never had a Mortgage Lifter that knocked my socks off with production. Last year was just a terrible year -- for everyone. I had one a few years ago that produced five or six tomatoes -- but this is before I adopted a new fertilization trick that resulted in a bang up year two seasons ago. So, we'll see. As for red tomatoes? You can't go wrong with Campbell's 1327 or Druzba -- my "Reliable Reds." Both will knock your socks off with great production, provided you can keep them disease free.

Jackpark said...

Those of you who are reading this and live in Southern California and can't or don't grow your own--
take a trip to Burkards Nursery in Pasadena. They will have over 100 varieties of tomatoes and almost as many pepper varieties in Mid-March and April in 4 in pots. They also have many other vegetable plants available as well from lettuces to beans to melons to eggplant. It is well worth the drive.

Bill Bird said...

Well now, normally I don't allow any sort of advertising on the blog. But since you're plugging a nursery and I believe in supporting local nurseries -- I'll let this one stay up Mr. Jack Park. But the moment you start posting ads for Viagra -- you're in trouble -- nursery or no nursery!

Indoor Fountains said...

No legs here either. The peppers on deck though.

Jackpark said...

Thank Mr Bird...!
I have no interest in pushing in new and unusual drugs, just interested in getting people into gardening in the best way they can.
I grow a few tomato varieties from seed myself but a lot of people just don't have the time and space to do that. Hope thats okay with you!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Bill -may I call you Bill?-
I'm a new gardner, coming up on my third year of trying to grow something edible in our Rosemont area home. Last year turned out pretty decent, and I've been reading everything I can to improve my game. Got my Viking Purple potatoes today, can't wait to get those in some dirt.

I do have a question to ask you, if you don't mind-are you INSANE?? 50 tomato plants?!? I grew ONE tomato plant last year, an Early Girl (which wasn't, but not for lack of trying) and got 50-60 pounds from one bush. My pantry is still crammed full of sauce. Are you secretly feeding your own personal militia? Or trying to single-handedly eliminate world hunger? Or do heirloom tomatoes produce only one precious fruit per plant? I was thinking about attempting an heirloom variety next year when we expand our beds (my secret agenda is to take over the entire back yard, one raised bed at a a time), but if it leads to the sort of insanity where I have to beg people on the street to take my excess produce, I may just pass. Is this the sort of obsession I have to look forward to?


kristy said...

I just finally got my own tomato seeds planted (27 varieties, but the seed is so old that some of them might not germinate.) You're miles ahead of me with those seedlings. I'm almost tempted to buy a couple of starts so that I'm not sitting around just salivating when you post pictures of ripe tomatoes in June.

rancho cordova pipe clean out said...

If you ask my husband, he would say that you have to grow your own. One is going to care for these crops like they are your children so better start from the seeds. I f one gets starters, one doesn't how they were brought up just like children.