Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Strong Sprouts, Gardening As Therapy, Week 8

What's blooming in our garden now

I am a writer.  So I see the world through those glasses.  After I write a rough draft, I have to edit.  Editing can take weeks and is so important to the whole creative process.  I see this phase, week 8, of raising flowers in our garden as an editing process.

Every morning and evening, I check the plants to make certain their soil is moist.  I continue to thin as more than one sprout might pop up in a peat pot.  Something really interesting happened with that this week.  This is the first year I've grown impatiens and I thought they might be hard to grow.  I had thinned a few and sometimes I just drop those "extras" into the tray that collects extra water from the pots.  Well, the next morning a few of those impatiens baby sprouts were still alive and well!  I'd pulled dirt with the sprout and they were laying in a low puddle of water.  Since they'd so vigorously survived, I replanted each one in a peat pot.  Three days later, they are still growing strong.  Sometimes these tender plants are heartier than we give them credit for.

Also during this time, I'm filling in pots with more soil.  One reason I water from the bottom and spritz on the top is so the soil doesn't erode.  Now the sprouting plants are growing taller and need more support.  As soon as they grow three to four leaves, I will transplant them into the next size pot.  Tomatoes might go through this process three times.  I save quart size yogurt containers and poke holes in the bottom and sides as well as using plastic pots I've collected over the years.

The earliest petunias are already larger than those that I usually buy at the garden center.  Each has plenty of room for the roots to elongate and spread.  I'm looking forward to them budding.  The two blue plants definitely haven't grown as well and do not look healthy.  They are miniscule compared to the purple and yellow plants.  Some seeds just don't germinate to their hoped potential.  I had a 75-80 percent grow rate on the purple and yellow seeds.

The geraniums are starting to form their third leaves.  The "Violet," "Elite Pink," and "Apple Blossom" varieties have pushed up the best.  The "Ice Rose" hybrid doesn't seem to be germinating as well but it could merely be slower.   Below I've included a 16 oz. water bottle in the photo to give size perspective.  The petunia is the tallest.  In front of that is a Marianna's Peace tomato and to the left is an "Apple Blossom" geranium.

With the heirloom tomatoes, Marianna's Peace and Carmello are the first and hardiest to spring up.  I've planted others in stages and will give you reports on them as they grow.  My husband is already counting how many neighbors we can give plants to!

Until next week...

© 2012 Karen Rose Smith

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

HEIRLOOM TOMATOES--Gardening as therapy, Week 7

 I can't believe it's March in Pennsylvania and so many flowers are blooming!  Above is a picture of our gnarled weeping cherry tree which has just blossomed. Hyacinths, wood hyacinths, daffodils, pansies and creeping phlox are also brightening our yard.

I'm starting to plant tomato seeds this week.  The petunia plants are growing stronger as you can see below.  The geraniums are starting to pop out of the soil.  The "apple blossom" variety is springing up first.

The first year I grew tomatoes, I began with a basic beefsteak variety and paste tomatoes.  I watch cooking shows and was intrigues by the chefs using "heirloom" tomatoes which were supposed to have a richer more vibrant flavor.  In our area there wasn't a market where I could find heirloom tomatoes.

What are heirloom tomatoes?  To me the term means tomatoes with a history and possibly a story behind them.  They are open pollinated and are true tomatoes without genetic engineering.  When I decided to grow them, I understood that they might be more prone to disease and cracking.  But that wasn't my experience last year.  To my surprise almost all of them grew and the result was over ninety healthy palnts.  Maybe this was the result of the varieties I chose.  Or maybe my good crop was the result of where I bought my seeds.  I found an organic farm on-line (TomatoFest) that is California based.  I'll insert a link below.

Now let me give you an example of the history of an heirloom tomato.  My favorite variety is "Marianna's Peace."  This tomato is an indeterminate that produces a 1 - 2 pound beautiful fruit.  It's officially a "pink" tomato.  It has a bountiful, not too acid taste, wonderful for eating and also for sauce.  The seeds date back to the early 1900's when they were smuggled out of Czechoslovakia by a seventeen-year-old named Marianna.

Another favorite of mine is Anna Russian which has a heart-shaped red fruit.  The seeds came from a Russian immigrant.  Here's a photo of last year's fruit. That's a Purple Calabash in the center.

This year I'm trying some new varieties along with Marianna and Anna Russian.  I'll let you know which ones pop up first and grow the best.

Until next week...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


On errands this week, I stopped for planting supplies.  But the day was so sunny and springlike that I decided to go to Pier I since I still hadn't used a Christmas gift card.  I wanted something special.  To my delight I found this adorable blue and brown-swirled cat planter.  It will look great filled with flowers on the porch or patio.  Since the petunias I started six weeks ago are growing high and strong and I planted geranium seeds this week, those are two likely candidates.

In Pennsylvania in March we usually have frost-filled night and windy days.  This year is different!  The hyacinths and daffodils are already blooming, forsythia is budding.  But what will happen if we get a cold spell?  We will see.

For week 6, let's discuss "transplanting."  Think about what moving encompasses for us.  We have to shed lots of older baggage, pack everything up and start over in a new environment.  It's not easy to adjust.  We try to take along familiar belongings and then we settle in slowly.  This isn't much different for plants.

First of all, those petunias I raised in trays--I won't do that again--needed attention.  After thinning them, I was still concerned their roots would tangle or not have enough depth to grow properly.  The first petunias I started in peat pots were ready for a roomier home in bigger peat pots.  But I wasn't sure the tender shoots in trays that hadn't grown as quickly would survive the move.  I'm happy to say that they have.  After moistening, I scooped them out, one by one, trying not to disturb the roots and set them in a readied peat pot.

When I transplant from a smaller peat pot to a larger one, I make sure the soil is moist so it clumps and doesn't fall apart as much.  I carefully peel off at least two sides and the bottom, using the other two sides to stabilize and not disturb the plant.  Then in a prepared new pot with ground moistened and a depression in the center, I carefully plop in the smaller plant, stabilize with more ground around it and gently water from the far side, not directly on the plant.

I've moved the larger sprouts I transplanted from a tray directly on the heated pad under a grow lamp to a heated pad with a rack under a grow lamp.  This will slow them down a bit until they're ready for the next transition.

I'm hopeful I'll have enough petunias for our whole patio garden, pots and border.  Yes, I'm still nurturing that one blue petunia. 

Till next week when we find out if the geraniums have begun to grow.

© 2012 Karen Rose Smith

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Petunias-Watering, Week 5

Is it spring yet?

Not exactly.  But there are signs.

In the fall, I brought in a flower pot that had been decorating the patio all summer.  I fill these pots with some type of spiky greenery, petunias, geraniums, salvia and daisies.  This pot was in a corner of the basement and my husband noticed it coming back to life!  The salvia began pale green because it didn't have enough light.  So we put it near the grow lamp and now it's blooming.  I love those types of surprises.

This is week 5 of my petunia project.  As you can see, the sprouts are growing on the earliest seedlings I started.  They're green and healthy and getting more leaves.  But I'll repeat again that I prefer planting in peat pots rather than trays.  I lost so many of the plants to thinning.  I did manage to transplant a few and they're still alive a few days later.  But I wouldn't suggest it.  Usually at this stage, they're too tender and fragile to survive disruption.

Also...  ONE, yes, ONE blue petunia is popping up in that big tray.  One out of the whole packet of seeds.  I'll be tending that sprout with extra care.

I also want to discuss watering this week.  With the sprouts growing more each day, I can't let them become completely dry.  By BFF and her daughter were coming for a visit.  Her ten-year-old likes to plant and tend with me.  So I let the plants go an extra 12 hours so she could help me water them.  The tallest sprouts became dehydrated and started to droop.  I was afraid I would lose a few.  But we hydrated them and the next morning they were healthy again.  I've found the best method for petunias is to place the peat pots in a flat tray--I use foil pans--and water from the bottom and spritz from the top.  Even when the soil is moist and I don't need to water from the bottom, I spritz gently twice a day from the top.

I'm pleased with the progress and grow rate this year.  I might have enough petunias for a path border.  But these little plants have a long way to go.

More next week.

©2010 Karen Rose Smith