Sow: being realistic

Yesterday I learned what I was NOT going to do in 2013. You see, I went to a seed starting class at North Haven Gardens, a local independent nursery that is committed to educating their customers. I went with the hope that I’d leave ready to start my spring tomato plants today.

I left with the realization that starting tomato seeds is better left to those with plenty of time on their hands. Perhaps that’s why the class was filled with snowy-haired experienced vegetable gardeners. We were all pretty hardcore though—we fought a torrential downpour and walked through deep puddles to get across the garden center to their auditorium.

An assortment of 2012's spring tomatoes and peppers

An assortment of 2012’s spring tomatoes and peppers

But starting tomato seeds successfully in north Texas requires many things. You need some sort of medium to house the seeds (peat pods were one option). You need a heating pad to help keep the soil warm enough. You need a light source to go 12-14 hours a day. You need to water daily or perhaps even more frequently. And this needs to happen for at least 8 weeks to get the little buggers started. Then you may need to transplant them to a bigger pot if it’s still not warm enough for them to go outside. When it is warm enough to bring the baby tomato plants outside, you need to slowly introduce them to the outside conditions over a period of about 10 days. Finally, you can plant them in your raised bed or garden.

No thank you. I will be picking up my tomato and pepper transplants as soon as they are available. And I will appreciate the work and effort that the nursery workers had to put in to give them a great start.

But lest you think I soaked myself for nothing and wasted about 1 1/2 hours at North Haven Gardens yesterday, I assure you, I did not. I learned what I  did wrong with my tomatoes last year (fertilized before flowering instead at the first signs of fruit). I was told how to keep my tomato and pepper plants around for at least 2 crops (plant in spring, trim after spring harvest is done, water water water all summer, and in October, you’ll be rewarded with more peppers and tomatoes). I learned that when I heard the weather report that we were having our first frost that I should have run outside and picked all of the green tomatoes and brought them inside — they would have continued to ripen on our counter throughout the winter (it takes time, but we could have enjoyed them). I heard more about why we need to be aware of the crazy weather here and keep the frost blankets handy all the way through April.

I picked up a three new swiss chard plants. The cold took its toil on three and here it is still ok to plant transplants of chard, kale and other greens.

I also talked to one of the garden experts about strawberry plants and learned that if I want to grow strawberries and have any reasonable quantity, I need to plant enough to fill 1/2 of a 4′ x 8′ raised bed (they are a perennial here and would get better year after year). I’m thinking about it, but not sure it will be worth the effort.

Just trying to be realistic.