Garden Progress – Tomatoes Are In!

The past couple of weeks have been spent outside as much as possible, planting, preparing, and maintaining the gardens. Last week I finally finished cleaning up the areas on the side of the house where I planned to plant all the tomato plants this year. In all we have 22 plants planted.  I hope these yield enough for all the canning I want to do, but if not, I’ll know better for next year.

There are two areas where I planted tomatoes for canning:

Beefsteak and Better Boy Tomatoes

Beefsteak and Better Boy Tomatoes

Beefsteak and Better Boy Tomatoes

Beefsteak and Better Boy Tomatoes

This area holds the 4th of July tomatoes for Hubby to eat and to share with friends and family:

Fourth of July Tomatoes

Fourth of July Tomatoes

I bought two cherry tomato plants and placed them in pots.  I was a bit humbled when I went to the store to buy tomato plants, because they are much bigger and developed than the ones I grew from seed.  I hope mine catch up.

Cherry Tomatoes

Cherry Tomatoes

I still have several tomato plants that don’t have a home, but want to wait until the ones I planted take and begin to grow.  This way, if any die or stall, I can replace them.  I figure by next week I’ll know if any are going to need replacing and if not, the remainder will go to neighbors or family if they want them.

Leftover tomato plants without a home!

Leftover tomato plants without a home!

So far the tomato plants I’ve transplanted outside seem to be doing okay, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Gardening Mishaps – The Bad News

Last year was the first year I actually had any success with gardening.  Prior to that it was hit or miss, mostly miss, with tomatoes being pretty much the only harvest on the success side. Last year though I had great success with pickles, peppers, beets, carrots, kale, and tomatoes.

This year I got ambitious, deciding to see if I could have an entire garden planted from seed.  With seed packets and fresh garden mix soil, I set to work early in the spring planting seeds and enjoying early success with my seedlings. Since then however, everything has not been so wonderful.

At least half the tomato plants I transplanted from their original pots to larger containers to accommodate root growth have died.  Originally they were grown in peat or Jiffy pots and then transferred to plastic cups with holes drilled into the bottoms or larger peat pots.

DSCF8056

No matter what I do, they just seem to keep dying.  I’ve kept them in the house, put them outside, watered them, fed them, followed all the instructions I could find to the letter, only to find more and more plants struggling to survive every morning.DSCF8250

Every pickle seed I planted sprouted, but when I transplanted them to larger containers, they too died.  Same goes for the broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage.  I’d say that it was the transplanting, but the peppers, marigolds, and pumpkins I’ve transplanted have thus far held their own.

Moving to the gardens outside, the pea garden I planted more than 2 weeks ago has yet to have a single sprout.  The temperatures have fluctuated between the high 40’s to the mid-70’s, so perhaps this isn’t to the seeds liking, but other than that, I don’t have an explanation.

DSCF8247

Back a week ago I transplanted half of the broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage seedlings that hadn’t been transplanted into larger containers directly into the ground and covered them with milk cartons to protect them from rabbits, wind, and frost.  During the day I made sure they were moist and removed the milk cartons to allow them to bask in the sun.  Thus far this experiment has shown little to no success.  Half the plants have died and the other half have not grown and seem to be barely hanging on.

DSCF8142

I keep telling myself this is a learning process, but it is very hard not to get discouraged.  I’ve resolved I will no doubt have to purchase some plants for the garden when it comes time to plant tomatoes and cucumbers outside, but I really don’t want to give up on this yet.  I even invested in a small greenhouse to put on the patio to see if storing half the seedlings in there would perk them up.  So far there seems to be little difference. The plants in the house are fairing about as well as those in the greenhouse.

DSCF8248

The learning process is not all about successes.  In fact, a lesson learned through failure will likely be more beneficial or at least remembered more than one learned through success. At this point however I am finding little comfort in this.  If this were easy, I guess everyone would do it.  Anything worth having is worth working for. I’m sure there are a bunch of other “words of wisdom” I could try to console myself with, but the one that keeps me going has to be “Nothing ventured, nothing gained”  I can’t expect to get everything right the first time, but I sure would like to get something right.

It is still early enough in the game to try a few more seedlings.  I think I’ll plant some tomatoes tomorrow directly in the large plastic cups and then hill them (as done with potatoes) as they grow to accommodate root growth.  Another experiment, but how else am I going to learn.  I guess it isn’t truly failure unless I give up, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Seedling Update #4 – The Waiting Game

For more than a week now I’ve been working on transplanting the seeds I sowed nearly a month ago.  I have far more plants than I anticipated, but cannot bring myself to pulling any of them yet. Who knows if all my transplants will make it or if the other seeds I’ve sown are even going to sprout.  At this point I want to cushion the garden so I have enough plants, even if they are all tomato and pepper, to fill every square inch.

DSCF8041 DSCF8042 DSCF8043

My broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and pumpkin plants have all sprouted, but for now they are going to hang out in their original pots.  I’ve found lots of information online on how to transplant tomato and pepper seedlings into larger pots before planting them in the garden, but have not been so lucky when it comes to these other plants.  I figure I’ll wait until they have another week or two of growth and then try transplanting a few of them to see if they survive the shock and continue to grow.

This afternoon I planted three new varieties of peppers that I ordered online.  These peppers will be for canning.  For the past four years I have bought a bushel of peppers from a local farmer and canned them.  This year my goal is to grow my own.  I bought Szegedi, Romainian, and White Cloud peppers.  All are sweet and either yellow or white with a very thick flesh — perfect for pickling.

I am so excited for the weather to warm up so I can get out and start preparing the gardens for incoming plants.  Being in Michigan however, there is no telling when that might be.  Just to give you a little taste of what it’s like here:  Two days ago it was 54 degrees and sunny outside, one day ago we woke to 3″ of snow on the ground, and today it was 52 degrees and sunny again.  Not the best track record for getting outside and making any progress.

I have a few more plants that I will be able to transplant in a few days, but then it becomes the waiting game.  There won’t be a whole lot to do with the plants until they start growing and the leaves begin to multiply.  Already some of the tomato plants are getting a new set of leaves, giving me hope that perhaps some of these will actually make it to the garden.

I have big plans this spring/summer and truly hope my efforts will be rewarded.  For now, I am enjoying the smell the plants growing in the dining room and the dirt under my nails, for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Seedling Update #3 – Time To Transplant

The tomato seeds I planted a little over two weeks ago have grown to a point of being too tall for me to put the plastic cover over their trays at night.  If all the seedlings in these trays were as developed, I would opt to just leave the cover off, but seeing as not all the seeds have even sprouted, it is time to look at my other option – transplanting.

This afternoon after everyone was finally out of my hair and busy doing their own things, I decided to pull out my peat pots, potting soil, and plants and begin transplanting.  Trouble was, I really had no place to work.  Sure I could use the kitchen table or the corner of the dining room table that hadn’t yet been turned into a nursery for seedlings, but with every scoop I made into the bags of dirt, it seemed more dirt was ending up on the floor or carpet.  Not a pretty sight.

To make matters worse, all I kept thinking about was the potter’s bench out on the patio that I bought last summer and the fact that I wasn’t even using it.  The temperatures outside are still too cold to work outside but even if I did dress appropriately, exposing the little plants to the shock of the cold air while transplanting them would surely kill them or at the very least stunt their growth.

What to do?  What to do?

Well, seeing as Hubby wasn’t home to object, I did what every housewife determined to utilize the right tool for the job would do, I moved the potter’s bench into our great room.  Why not?  It’s not like it was dirty or anything.  Perhaps a bit weathered from the winter, but seeing as I bought the bench near the end of the summer, all I’d managed to do on/in it was to store supplies and trim the tops off some root vegetables before it was time to close it up for the season.

Grace and I carried the bench through the door wall and placed it against the windows in the great room overlooking the garden in the back of the house.  It’s perfect right where it is.  I lined the recessed work area with a plastic tarp, put a firm board across half of the bench so I’d have a work surface above the recessed area to work on, and then stocked the bench with pots, dirt, tools, seeds, gloves, water, and finally plants.

DSCF7896

It took some time to get everything set up but it was definitely nice to have everything I needed in one place and an area to work in that would confine the mess where it should be, not all over the floor, and keep me dry and warm.

Today I transplanted 17 Beefsteak tomato plants into 3″ and 5″ peat pots.  I really wanted 4″ pots, but none of the stores with garden supplies in our area had them.  They all had 3″ pots and only one had 5″ pots.  I figure I’ll see if the pot size I transplant into will make much of a difference in the long run.

Seven plants went into 5″ pots and nine went into the 3″.  All the tomatoes were planted deep in the soil, covering most of the stem and leaving only the leaves above the dirt.  The plants were at least 3″ tall, some taller.  The taller ones went into the 5″ pots.

Tomatoes in 3" Peat Pots

Tomatoes in 3″ Peat Pots

Tomatoes in 5" Peat Pots

Tomatoes in 5″ Peat Pots

It’s nice to see my seeds growing.  Of the 44 Beefsteak tomato seeds I planted (2 seeds in each of 22 pots/pellets), 18 plants have emerged.  I have no idea if this is a good percentage or not, but if all 18 tomato plants survive and bear fruit, I shouldn’t have to buy any tomatoes for canning this year. Plus, I still have Better Boy tomatoes to transplant tomorrow and have about the same number of plants there.  Now my next problem is going to be finding room in the gardens for all these plants, but then I’m sure my neighbors wouldn’t turn down a free plant or two.

Even though the weather hasn’t been very spring-like yet this March, planting seeds, getting my hands covered with dirt, and watching the seedlings sprout fills me with the hope that Spring promises, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Seedling Update #2 – Day 7 & 11

Marigolds and tomatoes are sprouting!

I’m a bit behind in my posts, but I’ve been sure to keep up on taking pictures.

By day 7 after I planted marigolds, tomatoes, and peppers, all of the marigolds had sprouted and some of the tomatoes had begun.

In the Jiffy pots, once again the sprouting was not as fast.  Only three plants had emerged.

DSCF7669

The cardboard planters were far quicker with over a dozen sprouts.

DSCF7672

Even though the amount of tomato plants sprouting in the two mediums were different, the marigolds caught up, so I was hopeful that the tomatoes would too.

As you can see, by day 11, the tomatoes and marigolds in the Jiffy pots and the cardboard planters were nearly even.

DSCF7790 DSCF7791

I’m getting anxious to transplant these into individual pots…but don’t want to get ahead of myself.  According to what I’ve read, I should wait until they have at least two sets of leaves.

A week and a half into my home-grown seedling experiment and so far, so good and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Seedling Update #1 – Day 4

Planting seeds in two different types of medium has proven to display some definite differences.  Although far too early to make any definitive conclusions, these results are certainly interesting.

This morning when I checked on the progress of the planting I did just four days ago, I was pleased to open the lid of the Jiffy pot tray and find a few marigold seedlings.

Jiffy Pot Marigolds

Jiffy Pot Marigolds

I planted marigolds for several reasons, one being that I figured if these grew, there would be no reason the other seeds would not, as marigolds are easy to grow. The other seeds I planted have a longer germination period, so I don’t expect the other plants to start showing up for at least a week.  Seeing that the seeds have started to sprout, proves to me that this method of growing plants should work. Although I’m sure some plants are easier and heartier to begin from seed, I am encouraged that with my marigold success I might have success with my other plantings.

Moving to the tray of seeds I planted using a cardboard-style pot with a garden potting mix, I was completely surprised to find every marigold seed had sprouted.  I’m not saying every pot had a plant, I’m saying that every seed, as I put two per pot, had sprouted.  Wow!  A definite difference.

Cardboard Tray & Garden Mix Marigolds

Cardboard Tray & Garden Mix Marigolds

This test, if taken completely out of context, might indicate that the cardboard planters and garden potting mix is the way to go, but it is still early.  There is nothing to indicate that the jiffy pots will not still sprout.  What I can conclude though, is that the cardboard planters and potting mix worked faster.  If there is only a day or two difference, this is not a big deal. Also, there is still the question as to which plants will be healthier, those planted in the Jiffy pots or those in the cardboard planters, if there is a difference.

For now, I am just grateful my marigolds have sprouted.  It gives me hope for the remaining plants, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

 

Gardening 2015 – Opening Day

It’s official — I have started my gardening for 2015.  Of course living in Michigan means I’ve started some seeds indoors, as the ground is still snow ridden and cold, but this is a definite sign that spring is close.

Last year I bought all of my starter plants except for my beets, carrots, scallions, and peas.  This year I am hoping to start most of the plants inside and then plant seeds directly in the ground for everything else.  If my seedlings don’t sprout I can always buy plants, but I really wanted to give this a shot.

My first step in this process was to figure out which plants to start and when.  I went through all the seed packets in my bin and sorted them by how long they took to germinate.  Then I read up on each one to find out the suggested lead time, compiled a spreadsheet with this information — wow, can you tell that I was an office worker for many years — anyway, after I had everything written out and organized, I pulled out the seeds I was going to start with, assembled all my materials, and went to work.

DSCF7641

As a kid I remember starting marigold seeds in cut down milk cartons my father gave me.  Things have certainly come a long way and I have only learned about a few of the options for starting seedlings.  That’s good though, because if I knew any more I might be dangerous or seriously overwhelmed and confused, and at this point I’m borderline confused as it is.

So, I chose two separate types of planting pots for my seedlings and am going to hope for the best.  I’m hoping that by trying different types of planting techniques, I will increase my chances of success, or if I were a pessimist, increase my possible ways to fail–but let’s have a little faith here.

The first method I tried was to use these little jiffy pots.

DSCF7642

Pretty cool really.

DSCF7643

You just add water and watch them expand.

DSCF7644

Then open them up a bit, put in the seeds and top off with some dirt.

DSCF7645

Quick and easy.

The second method was to fill some paper-type pots with a garden mix and plant the seeds.

DSCF7647

Again, easy and quick.

The plants I started were two types of tomatoes, yellow peppers from a package, and two types of peppers from seeds I collected from peppers last year.   I also started some marigolds — just for the fun of it.  I figured if I could start marigold seedlings when I was kid, I should certainly be able to do it again as an adult.  If they don’t grow, then maybe it’s not me, but rather the method.  Think of them as my placebo — is that the right analogy?

DSCF7649

Anyway, in the next couple of weeks I should see some seedlings, keep your fingers crossed.  Until then, I’ll keep my eye on the planting schedule.  My next planting will take place in two weeks – squash and pickles.  Can’t wait.

I love getting my hands back in the dirt.  The smell, the feel — it all just gives me a sense of calm that can’t be compared to cleaning house, scrubbing floors, washing clothes, or making dinner, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.