Monday, April 16, 2012

Early Season Gardening

Desk with plants, pots, lights, and dirt
Don't Try this at Home, Kids

Starting Tomatoes and Culinary Poppies

I’ve always loved digging in the dirt, how about you? Were you the kid with perpetual dirt stains on your knees, mixing mud of various consistencies for different “baked” treats…mudpies and their ilk? Or “stucco” a wall with mud? Did you ever use the hose to add water to your sandbox to get the sand to stick together so you could make something? If so, you have great potential as a gardener. Just loving plants is not enough. There’s no getting around the dirt factor. You have to be okay with getting dirt on your hands, clothes, and places you wouldn’t imagine dirt might go.

Repotted Tomatoes on Desk with Grow Lights
How Does One Motivate a Tomato to Grow?
My garden project for this year is raising some herbs and veggies from seed, largely to grow in containers. In the past I’ve raised lettuce from seed, but nothing as tricky as tomatoes, which I’m working with now. It’s still cold here at night, so my tomato plants are occupying a repurposed desk in my office/music room. It smells extremely earthy, and not in refreshingly outdoorsy way. The plants germinated quickly, but then their growth slowed down, despite the full spectrum lights. I just transplanted the 2-inch plants, per package instructions, into deeper containers, a process that I wouldn’t attempt inside the house if I could do it over. Time will tell whether I can recommend growing tomatoes from seed without a greenhouse. If you know how to make tomato seedlings grow faster, please comment!

Barrel 1/3 Filled with Rocky Soil
Frugal Tip: Fill Barrel 1/3 with Rocky/Well
Drained Garden Soil, 2/3 with Potting Soil
Culinary poppies are much hardier and more rewarding. These have been growing in outdoor barrels since early March, enduring heavy rains and cold. Hungarian pepperbox and Hungarian breadseed should provide a variegated flower display followed by attractive seedpods, which can be gathered for cooking and/or re-seeding next year. I just thinned these out and replanted the removed seedlings into a third barrel. It sounds simple, but wasn’t. I didn’t want to toss the poppies I thinned, perfectly nice plants over which I reluctantly wielded the power of life or death.

So I gave as many as I could a new lease on life by replanting them in a nearby bed. Never mind that there’s less sunlight in the new location and they’re sun-loving plants. Never mind that it took an extra hour to turn over the bed and add soil conditioners, and longer than I cared to count to gingerly dig up and replant each poppy. Never mind that I can’t remember what else might come up in that bed in the summer (this is our second summer here), and three-foot-tall poppies might not be compatible with them. And never mind that after all that, there were still extra poppies for which I had to…ummm…shorten their lifespan. At least I gave some of them a chance. I need to read again why thinning plants is necessary.

Seedlings in New Bed
Some of the Relocated Seedlings
This brings me to another characteristic of a good gardener, which is patience with processes that can become complex and time-consuming. Not always a natural for those who like playing in dirt. At least the poppy project is nearly complete. One more thinning and they’ll be headed to maturity. Hopefully I can avoid the “save the poppy” syndrome next time because I still have other seeds to plant this year. Lots of them.


  1. Great post!

    I wish I had green fingers, but alas I'm not blessed in this area.

    I started a seasonal blog today, but from across the pond. Really interested in reading your tales for inspiration and advice!

  2. Likewise, Miss Dolly! I sure wish the Fish Box idea would catch on over in this side of the pond!