Seed Starting Season: an exercise in going overboard

I’ve already started strolling through the garden centers.  Frequently it’s just the employees and myself. There’s something so awesome about taking in a big whiff of greenhouse air…aaahhhh (nerd alert). What’s going on in those greenhouses you may ask? Not even the pansies are on display yet. Don’t let this scare you.  It’s seed starting time!
packetsThis year, I made a real effort to avoid seeds that were GMO (genetically modified organism). Most of my seeds came from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. If you’ve never looked through their seed catalog – you’re missing out.  It’s like reading a magazine.

Most tomato seeds can be started inside 6-8 weeks before the last frost. Here’s the list of tomato seeds planted today in my sun room:

Yellow Pear (it’s yellow, it’s small, it’s pear-shaped – end of story)

Cherokee Purple (huge, purple and really true tomato flavor)

Green Sausage (green and yellow streaked paste tomato)

Snow Fairy (tiny 1 foot high cherry tomato plants used in containers. I’m going to flood my garden table at the fair with these beauties. To the girls that won last year – you better be scared)

Dakota Gold (determinant yellow)

Bush Beefsteak (determinant red)

Big Rainbow (big red and yellow striped)

Delicious (apparently this set the world’s record in 1986 for a 7 lb, 12 oz fruit)

Black Cherry (dark purple cherry)

Green Zebra (the name says it all – these are super delicious and attractive)

Roma (typical paste tomato)

Csikos Botermo (nickname “queen of the summer garden” – Wait!  I thought I was queen!)

seed packet


These tomatoes will supply 3 different gardens. The run run rhubarb mini urban garden, my mom’s, and my in-law’s. A couple of years ago they grew 100 tomato plants!  So…that means that 160 tomato plants aren’t truly excessive. Right?

Here are a few seed starting tips:

Never, ever, ever let your seedlings dry out – they will croak!

Use an organic seed starting mix

Use vigilance! Mold will sneak up on you.  Keep the air moving in the room.  On super warm days I crack the door. If you get mold… (insert helpful tip here). I wish I had something handy to tell you. It would be some sort of genius, organic method that left you feeling like the victor.  I usually just prefer to panic and search the internet for random ideas. Sometimes you can fix it.  Sometimes you can’t.  Heartbreak is just a part of gardening *a single tear drips down one cheek*

Water from the bottom. Watering in the tray as opposed to on the dirt will prevent flooding the seeds or the seedlings.  If you use peat pots like I do, they’ll soak the water right up.

traysI’ll keep you posted.  Lets face it.  What else do you have to do between now and May?  You’ve already seen every single Netflix series worth seeing and the Real Housewives are never going to get along. Why not give seed starting a try.



Mix your own dirt and tell Miracle Grow to go somewhere!

I hate Miracle Grow dirt.  It’s overpriced and their version of organic potting mix has the look and consistency of mulch. By the way, their claim that it’s impossible to over or under water plants while using their dirt – lies! Do you mean to tell me that you could plop a plant in the middle of the driveway, not water it, and it’s going to survive?  How about if I stick a plant in a pot with no drainage holes and drench it repeatedly?  I suppose the guarantee only works if you have a receipt and I typically end up spitting my gum in mine. I actually bought some organic Miracle Grow dirt when I was having a dirt emergency (my local garden center was out of Vermiculite – I’ll explain what that is later). Compare the dirt in my mini corn field experiment to the super black awesome dirt that I mixed at home.

Crap-tastic Organic Miracle Grow Dirt (notice the huge, chunky wood chips)

Mel’s Mix is super soft, easy to weed, organic, less expensive, and plants love it!

Mel’s Mix is a dirt recipe from the book “Square Foot Gardening” by Mel Bartholomew. This dirt has 3 basic components.  Compost, Peat, and Vermiculite. You can get these items at your garden center.  You will probably not find all of these things at Lowes, but they will probably be at a feed store or grain elevator. I could give you a specific recipe, but it’s not that important. Each should take up 1/3 of the overall mix.  The Vermiculite (natural mineral) helps retain moisture and keeps the soil light. It’s generally easier to mix on a tarp in the yard, but if you’re a mini gardener, you can mix right in the pot.  Use equal parts peat and compost and sprinkle enough Vermiculite that it’s present throughout.  I bought a big bag of peat and a big bag of compost ($3.50 each).  The Vermiculite was $10, but I used a third of the bag. These supplies are enough to fill4-5 big pots with Vermiculite to spare.  The moral of the story, look and feel like a pro and get armpits deep in this dirt.

As my friend Erin (the Boston Marathoner and general badass) says, “Get after it!”

July garden update: it’s not all pretty

I promised at the beginning of this blog, to tell the entire truth about my household shenanigans.  July had  ups and downs in the garden. It was a gift and a curse.  (Note the Jay Z Blueprint 2 reference).  Here’s the rundown.

1. Amazing purple beans.

2. Huge kale (too much kale – who wants some?)

3. More cucumber beetles than I have ever seen in my entire life.

Neem oil - schmeem oil. It didn't faze these guys.

4. Excessive pepper plants – most peppers will be taken to the fair next week.

5. Squash and cucumber ROT! Yes, rot is a technical term.  All zucchini, squash, cucumber, and pumpkin plants have been ripped out of the garden due to disease. This was probably related to either cucumber beetle or squash borer.  I took pictures, but I am saving them for a blog post on disease: BTD (Beetle Transmitted Diseases)

6. Huge tomato plants.

Square foot gardening

7. Squirrels are picking tomatoes, taking one bite, leaving it by my backdoor, and picking another (repeat cycle).

8. The squash “alien/zombie” plants (as mentioned in an earlier blog) are huge – but may be all talk and no action.  They are on borrowed time.  I’m seriously considering ripping them out and making more room for parsley.

9. The heat has required deep watering two times a day.  The tomatoes seem to love it.

10. I have resisted “conventional” chemicals  and stayed organic – but it sure was tempting to whip out the Seven Dust and fry some bugs.


No flowers on the tomato plant? That’s “Bull!”

This year I have planted an excessive amount of tomato plants.  In fact – I just ate a small yellow tomato straight off the vine this evening(I don’t mean to brag…well…yes I do).  As I was checking  out my inventory, I noticed that my “Yellow Pear” tomato plant was not only super massive, but has absolutely no flowers or fruit.

All talk and no action

This monster is known as a “bull.” Bull plants put all their energy into foliage and forget about the good stuff. All body and no brains.  The question: How long do I allow this guy to take up space?  This spot could host some additional parsley, dill, or lettuce.  I had my hand wrapped around the base stem of this tomato plant, ready to pull, and…I got scared.  What if it changes?  People change. Can tomatoes?  Am I falsely calling out “Bull!” when in reality it’s just a “late bloomer.”  The social worker in me took over and saved it from the compost.  Live it up Bull tomato.  Don’t think you’re getting any fertilizer though.

X file

Call Fox Mulder.

There has been an alien implantation of some sort of cucumber/squash/zucchini/pumpkin plant in several of my containers.  How did they get there?

Squirrels? No, they would have just eaten the seeds.

Birds? Not their style.

Sugar the Cat? She doesn’t have thumbs.

I am the obvious first suspect. In all fairness, that accusation is not unjustified. I have been known to secretly bury Halloween pumpkins in the front flower bed in hopes that it will sprout next year. (I have made that work with gourds).  Unfortunately, my husband is wise to my tricks and generally finds the mushy pumpkin and moves it.  Some people believe the front flower bed is no place for a pumpkin. I know that’s hard to believe.

Although sticking a cucumber plant into my flower-pot is not really out of character – I truthfully didn’t do it. View exhibit A. (little green sprout at the bottom of the picture.)

 Before you start creating your helmet out of tin foil to protect your head from possible alien brain waves or abduction – my mom cracked the case.  Last year my compost bin was in the shade.  After my pumpkin left the hiding spot in the flower bed, it moved to the winter time hideout in the compost bin.  Usually compost gets warm enough to kill most seeds.  The theory: Something I put in the bin didn’t die (insert evil laugh).  What you see in front of you is not an alien – but a zombie! So, what do we do?  We let them grow and see what happens.

The truth is out there.

Squirrels are jerks

Well…they are! I don’t care that they’re cute. The fact is, they break into your house and garage, dig up your garden, chew holes in things, and leave droppings just about everywhere. Don’t even get me started about the bird feeders!

The following story is 100% true and free from any exaggeration.

Last year I had a hanging  basket that was ruthlessly killed because a squirrel decided to dig a hole in the center and insert  a chunk of a french baguette.

This past Christmas, they chewed through 2 strings of brand new LED Christmas lights and defiantly spread the detached bulbs around the yard. They clearly care nothing about the environment or holiday joy.

To top it all off…they pooped on someone I love while they were innocently sitting on the deck drinking a beer. The victim shall remain nameless to protect him from squirrel retaliation. I could go on for days about the delinquent behavior of squirrels.

My mom's sunflower seedlings have to be protected with fencing

So – what do we do about these little jerks?

Mom has had run-ins already this year. This is her 3rd planting of sunflower seeds and has fenced in each little seedling to protect from their inevitable dig up and consumption. I spread blood meal around my garden boxes and on top of my containers every week. Don’t worry – blood meal is organic, but don’t think too hard about what it’s made of. This works pretty well, but it has to be applied again after a hard rain. After the spring we’ve had so far – you have to know that I’ve been through a ton of this stuff. Mom spread cayenne pepper around the parameter of her containers. Before you get too excited about this idea – it totally didn’t work. She ended up covering her pot with more fencing.

Cayenne pepper apparently only makes digging in the soft dirt more appealing. (mmm..spicy)

Just to ease your mind, the squirrels that took up residence in the attic (once) and in the garage (twice) were evicted humanly with a “one way door.” I don’t love squirrels but I like that they feed the neighborhood hawk. That’s right! I said it! I told you I would tell the truth.

The battle continues. Hide your kids. Hide your wife.