Growing up, one of my favorite pastimes was eagerly waiting for the JCPenney Christmas catalog to appear in the mailbox and then spending the weeks preceding the holiday poring over each page in the children's toy department with my sister, picking out dolls, play kitchens and all sorts of fun, little-girl toys. We'd even page to the baby section and pretend we were mommies picking out our babies' nursery sets. Once toys and dolls were a thing of the past, the yearly tradition went out the window too, along with the fleeting sensation of magic that only children get at Christmastime. A few years ago I became interested in vegetable gardening and have since rediscovered the joys of eagerly awaiting a special catalog in the mail, only this time around, they're seed catalogs.
To an enthusiastic gardener, poring over seed catalogs is by far the simplest and one of the most joyful pleasures of the gardening season and I discovered that during the winter months, that little bit of childhood magic comes to call whenever a seed catalog appears in my mailbox in preparation of spring. I order free catalogs from many seed companies each year, but since my garden is miniscule, I usually only place an order with two or three. But the magic lies in the seed shopping, in the act of sitting down for the sole purpose of poring over each catalog, picking out different varieties, seeing newly-discovered heirloom varieties and shaking my head in wonder at the all-new hybrids. Heirloom seeds are something every gardener ought to experiment with. This year, I've planted a mix of heirlooms and hybrids and am anxious to see which ones our family prefers. Tomatoes are the main attraction around here, so it's fun trying new varieties each year. Varieties growing this year:
For two years, I've started my tomatoes from seed in Park Seed's Bio Dome. I have both the 60-cell and 18-cell planting block. I used the 18-cell planting block this year and kept the dome on only until the seedlings emerged and then I removed it. I kept the seedlings indoors, rotating them around the house every day to place them in the best and brightest natural light. Since I used the 18-cell planting block, it wasn't necessary to pot-up the seedlings; there was plenty of room for them to grow. However, as an experiment, I potted-up six of the nine and found that the potted-up plants did grow quite a bit larger. When they grew 6-12 inches tall and nighttime temperatures warmed up to around 55 degrees, it was time for them to be planted outside. I planted them pretty deep along the stem so they could grow a strong root system. In no time they took off like rockets!
I'm starting to get used to the idea of sharing my raised bed with the earthworms that chose to inhabit it. I have no idea how they got in there since it's on concrete (and lined), but they're multiplying like rabbits. I know this is a good thing for the soil and saves me from having to buy earthworm castings (which I just did before I discovered my new tenants) since I have my own manure factory going on down there. I have to keep reminding myself that those wriggling red worms are good.
Tomato growing tip: pinch or snip most suckers that develop, letting only a few grow out, either from the bottom stems, or up higher, and tie your tomatoes up, up, up! Keeping the plants off the ground and manageable results in larger tomatoes and healthier, more disease-resistant plants! I'm looking forward to tasty tomatoes, how about you?