Buying Tomato and Pepper Plants Early and How to Take Care of Them

Sometimes, in order to get the varieties you want, you just have to buy them earlier than you want, just to get them. I start my selling season on April 15th and no way can you put them out at that time.

Sometimes you want a certain variety such as Beauty King, Blush, Brad’s Atomic Grape, Cherokee Purple Heart, Vintage Wine, or Pruden’s Purple. Unless you grow them from seed you probably aren’t going to find them anywhere.

What about peppers? Try finding plants of Biquinho, Royal Black, Filius, Jalapeno Tajin, or Lemon Drop at a farmer’s market.

My customers who are savvy come early so they can get the more unusual or rare varieties. Naturally, they need to know how to keep them happy. So I school them n the dos and don’ts of what to do.

#1 Available real estate. When you buy a plant check the root ball. It may fill the pot and you will need to transplant them into a bigger pot to keep them growing. One of the reasons that I start some really early and put them into a gallon-size pot. Real Estate is everything for a plant. Below is the same variety of petunia. One was transplanted into a larger pot, and the other stayed in its old container. The difference is amazing.

#2 They need light. You can’t put them in your garage or basement with a lightbulb and consider it good. Even a bright window is not going to be satisfactory for any length of time. They need to go outside and get used to the weather. that being said if it is going to be over 40 at night when you set them out, leave them out. Also, watch out for wind and hail. If you buy a lot, consider putting them in a wagon or a sled or (use your creativity) and bring them out all at once rather than one at a time.

#3 They will need water. The nice thing about a bigger pot is that there is more soil volume and they don’t dry out as fast. In a smaller container, you really need to keep an eye on their water requirements.

#4 They will get hungry. we use a lot of organic amendments in our potting soil so they are set when we transplant but due to leaching (continuous watering dilutes the fertilizer every time you water), they will need more fertilizer be it organic or non-organic. Use the fertilizer you like, organic, non-organic, miracle-gro, or fish emulsion at half-strength every couple of weeks when you water. Light green tomato plants are especially unattractive.

Check out Progression of Pepper Plant Growth

It always amazes me how fast my plants grow. When they are first transplanted they just sort of sit there for a couple of weeks. Then, when their roots are feeling a little more settled, they start to put on growth. I am going to take pictures at regular intervals so that you see what I see in my greenhouse. I will do the same thing with the tomatoes.

There are four pics of the Jalapenos from 3 different dates. the others just represent the beauty of the little plants.

One of These Things Is Not Like The Other!

It’s been a while since I posted. Just trying to get my health and my mind back. Spring may have sprung somewhere but not here yet, even so, I have been busy in the greenhouse. I hope to share all of that with you. Thought I’d start out with something simple. We started our peppers back in January. I have to say that they are the best peppers I’ve ever grown! I would swear by the LED lights we purchased from Barina on Amazon

As I was hovering over the seed trays looking at all the life that popped up I saw something I didn’t recognize, at least it didn’t look like a pepper leaf. This was, of course after they grew their first true leaves. Hmmmm. didn’t know what to make of it since we had not opened a tomato seed packet at all! Just pepper seeds. Well, I don’t know what it is or where it came from so since it seemed like a plucky little thing, we transplanted it into a regular pot. It looked like the Ugly Duckling sort of thing. Not ugly really, just definitely not a pepper. I am going to grow it out and hopefully, it will be some magical, fabulous-tasting tomato.

Our peppers in progress as of March 7th, this one is called Super Khi

What I want you to get out of this is that mistakes don’t always happen in my hands. Often, from a seed packet, we will have plants that are supposed to have a potato leaf and not a regular leaf. those are the easy ones to differentiate. I have had as much as a 50/50 difference in the seedlings. Where I feel bad is when a customer gets something he didn’t bargain for such as a cherry tomato, not a beefsteak. Sometimes it’s a happy accident. Our friends had an oxheart and not a Cherokee Purple. didn’t know what it was although we had some guesses and he saved the seed which we are growing this year in the hopes it will be the same. They waxed rhapsodically over the sandwiches they had from this particular plant. Who knew? You really don’t know until it fruits. Sometimes I can tell the difference between a short little dwarf and an indeterminate or it may have bluish-green leaves or even a differently shaped leaf such as the Silvery Fir Tree. Other than that, your guess is as good as mine.

Everybody’s favorite, Jalapeno. Last year we had almost nothing in the Jalapeno catagory. this year we have 10 different varieties!

Even though we try hard to keep things straight, it happens. In my business, I always will replace the errant plant Personally, can’t imagine how difficult it must be to keep seeds straight out in the field. And collecting and preparing them for seed packets, what a job!

Giant Marconi and Long Red Cayenne

The Tomato Lady Is Back!

Cherokee Carbon and Chocolate Cherry seedlings

 It’s been a while. I must apologize as I guess I am not as invincible as I thought. Just a little catch-up here – I finally got my permanent knee replacement after dealing with a temporary one for 10 months. Every step hurt. November 10th it was put in, just 2 days after Thanksgiving, my knee collapsed and I fell down, breaking my femur in two places! Who does that? I guess go big or go home, right? I have been walking with full weight for the last two weeks after two months of being confined to a recliner. That was tough. I made it and am doing that overachieving thing again. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be on my feet although it still hurts a bit, unused muscles and all.

Jalapeno “M”

I currently have over 350 varieties of tomatoes this year and over a hundred varieties of peppers. I have the elusive Cougar Reds this year, and then some. Last year I couldn’t find them in stock anywhere. 

Red and Pink Brandywine seedlings grown for the gallon pots.

I just finished planting seeds for the main crop this morning and already have 3000 plants almost ready to go into gallon pots in a couple of weeks. We switched to LED lights and are really impressed. The peppers look amazing, better than any that I sold last year!

February 20 Main crop of tomato seeds
Cougar Reds

I will be starting vegetables soon, including cauliflower and broccoli and have flowers going also. 

I have had to redo my website which means learning another software program. It’s taking a while. Keep on eye out for it plus my Facebook page. I will have more news there. Hoping to open mid-April. 

Lettuce Does Not, I Repeat, Not Love Hot Weather

Lettuce is a cool-season vegetable, it grows best in temperatures around 60 – 65°F. Once temperatures rise above 80°F, lettuce will normally start to “bolt” or stop leaf production and send up a stalk to flower and produce seed. The leaves become bitter when this happens.

Romaine types such as Mayan Jaguar and Pomegranate Crunch, Butterheads, such as Tom Thumb and Speckled Amish, and loose-leaf lettuces, such as Buckley and Slo-Bolt tolerate heat better than tighter heading lettuces like Iceberg.

This is what lettuce looks like as it BOLTS. The stalk is flowering and the seed heads are starting to form.
This is what it looks like as it is STARTING TO BOLT. Notice the center rising up. At this point it may still salvageable.

Several things you can do to grow lettuce in summer, at least a little longer.

Mulch Lettuce tolerates a higher air temperature if the soil around its roots is cool and moist. Keeping your soil cool and damp encourages your lettuce to grow longer without bolting. Since lettuce has wide and shallow roots, a thick mulch keeps it happier in warm weather.

Partial shade is one way to keep lettuce growing later into warm weather. Deep shade isn’t good, but a system allowing sun during the morning while sheltering the plants in the afternoon keeps them living longer.

In the long run, when it gets as hot as it is going to get in the upcoming weeks (100’s), there is very little you can do to prevent your lettuce from bolting and turning bitter. To salvage it, harvest it and it will keep n the refrigerator for weeks. Much longer than anything you can buy at a grocery store.

This is my harvest this morning. I tasted each one to see if it was bitter or not.
Before I put it in the refrigerator, I gave them a nice long soak in water. Makes a nice bouquet.

If you are starting seeds during these times, just know that most lettuce seeds won’t germinate as temperatures rise above 80°F, a condition called “thermo-inhibition”. This trait is a carryover from wild lettuce in the Mediterranean Middle East, where summers are hot with little moisture. If the lettuce seeds sprouted under these conditions, they would soon die out and the species would go extinct.

Tomato Plants and Hot, Hot, (Did I Mention Hot?) Weather

The hot weather looks to be here. This morning I saw that it’s going to over 100 degrees for the next six days. (Unusual for our area) That means I won’t be going outside except to water. (I may stick a picture of myself in my horse’s paddock for her to remember me!) Although most people assume that tomatoes love hot weather. They don’t.

Fruit development slows as the plant focuses on moving water through its system. A heat wave can also keep tomatoes from developing into a deep red, resulting in orange fruit.

Most varieties of tomato plants take a break, even those who are bred for warmer climates. They don’t care for excessive heat any more than we do. When daytime temperatures are up in the 90s and nights are in the 70s or warmer, tomato plants may keep on blooming, but the flowers often fall off and fruit does not set. Pollination doesn’t occur when it it is too hot. Once the flower opens, it has a short 50 hour window in which to pollinate or they abort, dry up and drop off. Don’t worry, they will soon return to normal as it gets cooler.

Here are few things you can do to help them through this time:

Adding mulch around the base of your tomato plants can help keep the ground a few degrees cooler and and aids in keeping moisture fro excessive evaporation. Use two to three inches of mulch, things like leaves or grass clippings.

Avoid Overwatering
You might think the plants need more water than normal. They don’t, they need the same amount but more often. In pots, I water throughly every day in hot weather. I soak them until water come out the holes in the bottom of the container. If it’s a smaller pot with very little volume you might need to do this twice a day. (See why I recommend LARGE containers?) Tomato plants need an inch or two of water a week. A deep soaking is better than a little water every day.  The best way to tell if your plants need water is to poke your finger into the soil. If it’s dry more than an inch down, it’s time to get out the hose.

The Tomato Lady Goes National!

I was interviewed last week for an article in AARP. The author just sent it to me and I am going to share it with you. I have to say, I am so excited about this. I am quoted with two other growers, one of which is Craig LeHoullier, one of the original growers involved with starting the Dwarf Tomato Project. I feel honored to be in the same circle as someone so illustrious. As you know, I’ve been growing and selling the Dwarfs for several years now and love them.

Don’t worry, I won’t forget my friends when and if I ever become famous!…/info…/ways-to-grow-tomatoes.html

For A Chef’s Kitchen (or at least they say these are their choices)

Chef’s Choice is a series of tomatoes that are known for crack resistance. good flavor, prolific harvests and smooth firm flesh. Each color has it’s own characteristics. In some trials each plant produced 30 or more fruit. Indeterminate vines reach 5 feet and have a good disease resistance package. Are they really a Chef’s Choice? I don’t know the answer to that. However, I am happy to grow them this year.

Chef’s Choice BiColor

Producing large 10 -12 ounce flattened beefsteak fruits with beautiful pinkish-red stripes inside. Sweet with great flavor and texture. Each plant can produce about 30 fruits per season. Indeterminate, main season

Chef’s Choice Black

This is a beefsteak tomato with a dark green/brown/black hue. Vigorous, healthy plants were early to set and have a meaty interior with great flavor. This hybrid boasts prolific yields. Indeterminate, main season

Chef’s Choice Orange

Rich, heirloom flavor, these bright orange 9-12 oz. fruits are perfect fresh or cooked. This hybrid-heirloom, adapted from the tasty but late ‘Amana Orange’ will quickly become a favorite. Very prolific. Disease-resistant plants resist cracking. Indeterminate, main season

Chef’s Choice Pink

Large, 12–14 ounce pink beefsteaks are very prolific. With a fine balance of sweet to acid flavor, they are great for soups, stewing, or sauces. Indeterminate, main season

Chef’s Choice Purple

Fans of Cherokee Purple will fall in love with this exceptionally flavored heirloom hybrid. Attractive, flattened globe shaped, 9 to 10 oz. fruits are firm, smooth and truly purple inside and out. Indeterminate, main season

Chef’s Choice Red

This globe shaped beefsteak tomato is firm and fleshy with a beautiful red color and dark green leaves A heavy producer. It offers great foliage protection against the summer sun. Superior disease resistance. Indeterminate, main season 

Chef’s Choice Yellow

 Gorgeous, 10 oz beefsteak-type, fruits have a sweet, citrus-like flavor with just the right amount of acid and the perfect tomato texture. Plants produce loads of golden yellow fruits. Indeterminate, main season

Growing Lettuce in Containers

I have been growing lettuce in containers for several years now. Why you might ask?

  • Lettuce is pretty, some lettuce varieties are as colorful as flowers and their leaves come in so many shapes and sizes. While it can star as the thriller in a container, it is also nice as a filler, complimenting the colors of other flowers. I’ve always believed that edible gardens can be functional and beautiful.
  • I hate slugs, Yes, I know that they have a purpose in the garden other than destroying your vegetables, but I really don’t want them in my lettuce. So far, I have suffered no slug damage to lettuce in pots.
  • You can locate your lettuce closer to the house for ease of harvesting
  • When you harvest your lettuce, if you planted petunias or pansies or other flowers in the same pot, they will fill in the blanks
A colander is a perfect container for a salad garden. Terrific drainage!
White alyssum is set off perfectly by the red lettuce. The center red, Pomegranate Crunch, looks like a rose, at least I think so. Prizehead on the far left and Ruby on the far right fill out the rest of the planting.
Red and green lettuce in a blue colander
Here we have a purple alyssum called “Rosie” along with a white alyssum and a red romaine in a hanging pot with the tomato called “Tumbler” taking center stage
This is one of my favorite looks, a variegated nasturtium in the “Alaska” series planted with a “Prizehead” lettuce tucked inside the leaves. You could even include some of the edible nasturtium leaves into your salad bowl.
Parris romaine lettuce and pansies in a long container with a white picket fence.

Tips for Successful Container Lettuce

Location: As with all lettuce, place container in lots of sun. It can do afternoon shade and morning SUN.

Containers: As with any container garden use containers that have good drainage and that will accommodate the amount of plants you are using. Consider the size of the lettuce at maturity. Jadeite and Mayan Jaguar are mini-romaines and can be planted alone in a smaller pot. Elf Ears and Better Angel can be huge plants when full grown and will need more space. Add some flowers such as petunias and you can up the size of the pot. Colanders, stock pots, wooden pots, any kind of pot with proper drainage will work fine. You may have to put a hole in the bottom. Also remember that a larger pot will need less watering.

Soil: I can’t say this enough, NEVER use garden soil in a pot. EVER. Choose a quality, well draining potting soil.

Water and Fertilizer: Keep your container from drying out. Fertilize with a high nitrogen fertilizer. Since you are watering frequently, this leaches out the nutrients faster than if they are planted in the ground, You will need to fertilize once a week or every two weeks depending on the amount of watering you are doing. Dilute the liquid fertilize to ¼ or 1/2 strength. You can also use a dry fertilizer such as Osmocote. Whichever way you go, ALWAYS read the directions on the package.

Harvesting: Leaf lettuces can be used as :”cut and come again” lettuce, Just remember that you will get about 3 cuts before the plant starts to decline.

‘Lettuce’ Look At Unusual Types Of, Well, . . . Lettuce!

I am in love with lettuce. It’s good for you and comes in a multitude of colors and, shapes and sizes. who knew there were so many kinds. Most people , i they think of it all, figre there are 5 types of lettuce. Whqt they see in the stores is red leaf, green leaf, iceberg, romaine and sometimes butter lettuce.

A couple of years ago I started perusing some of my favorite catalogs and was amazed at the variety. I grew starts and sold them along with my tomato plants. It was well received. I held a “Salad Bowl Workshop” for some of my customers and showed them how to plant i various kinds f pots such as stock pots and colanders. I twas so much fun and the ladies learned how to use lettuce AND flowers to make beautiful containers, both functional and edible!

This year I’ve started approximately 35 kinds of lettuce. I am going to showcase a few of what I have to offer. Can you image making a salad with these combinations? Masterful! My faves are Mayan Jaguar and Tom Thumb. I will showcase more in my next blog post.

Angel’s Ear – Deer Tongue (formerly known as Devil’s Ear)
Buckley – Oak Leaf
Magenta – Summer Crisp
Tom Thumb – Mini Butterhead
Speckled Amish – Butterhead
Pomegranate Crunch – Romaine
New Red Fire – Loose Leaf
Pablo – Batavian / Crisphead
Slo-Bolt – Loose Leaf (Takes heat better than other lettuces)
Elf Ears – Oak Leaf
Lollo Di Vino – Lollo / Loose Leaf / Red Leaf
Mayan Jaguar – Mini Romaine