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.