Tomato Math: How Many Seedlings Does 64 Tomato Seeds Make?

Leave a comment

Heirloom Tomato SeedsIt nearly killed me, but I have managed to wait until March 6th to start my main season tomato plants. The early drying tomatoes, Principe Borgheses, are out in the garage under lights already. But this year I am following the planting schedule recommendations from the Common Ground Ecology Action Planting and Gardening Guide and it really does say to start tomatoes in flats in March. If truth be told, the printed version actually says, “Tomatoes, Early” under the Start in Flats column for March, but I am gardening to the south of their location in Palo Alto, so I am taking this gardening license.

The first batch consists of ‘Cherokee Chocolate’, ‘Pruden’s Purple’, ‘Aunt Ruby’s German Green’, ‘Green Zebra’, ‘Pineapple’, ‘Old Kentucky’, ‘Black Sea Man’ and ‘Orange Heirloom’. Eight varieties in all. Because I’m only starting a few of each type I chose not to use flats but to start the seeds in Fiber Grow Coir 8-packs I picked up at Common Ground. I planted eight seeds of each variety, two to a cell. Because the seed is from different years, germination may not be consistent, but I am hoping for at least two nice looking plants of each type. One for the Dirt to Dinner garden, and one for a friend we are starting tomatoes for this year.

Seedling IncubatorThe soil in the planted coir 8-packs was well misted, then I set the tray of all 64 seeds onto a covered heating mat, which I am hoping will keep them between 72 and 78 degrees. The temperature of the area was 68.8 degrees when I covered the heat mat. Then I covered the whole thing with a plastic storage bin to keep in the heat and moisture. An hour later the center section registered 74.7 degrees. Now, I just have to remember to keep the moisture right and wait for yet another week. When this group of tomatoes moves into the garage or cold frame, depending on the weather we get, it’ll be time to start the paste tomato varieties and the ‘Cherokee Purple’ trial. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

October 10th, 2009 by Sidney, Kimberly and Marilee

Leave a comment

Opening Circle: Mackenzie shared a beautiful, new song with African lyrics. The English lyrics are as follows:

Welcome to my village
You are part of my village
We are all one village

Today we passed an invisible “talking stick” and shared the name of our favorite veggies. We also shared the progress of our seed jars. Most of the seeds had quickly germinated and in some cases had multiple leaves, or the seeds remained dormant with mold growing on the moist paper towel.

We discussed that the newly emerging plants were initially feeding on the nutrients within the seed and then each new plant grew toward the sunlight. Sidney shared a seed dispersal experience describing how a neighbor’s dog collected and distributed seeds which had caught onto his fur.

Mackenzie introduced our special guest today, Suzanne Mills, her mother from San Diego. Suzanne was busy helping everyone today with the experiments, cooking, clean up and sharing stories about growing up with Mackenzie. Thank you Suzanne!

Garden Chores:

The front yard was cleaned up with old growth tomato plants taken away to the compost pile.

Large Compost Bin

Tomato Plants Become Compost

Science Project:

We talked about the 3 elements; sunlight, water and soil and how they relate to plants.

There were 3 experiments. Mackenzie prompted the investigation with a question about one of the elements and then we created our scientific guess, sometimes referred to as a hypothesis.

Q#1 What happens to roots with various amounts of water?

Hypothesis: Plants need water

Method: 5 cups of soil were given varying amount of water and ability to drain water.

C1 – no water

C2 Water once with cup drainage holes

C3 Water once with no drainage holes

C4 Water several times with cup drainage holes

C5 Water several times with no drainage holes

Q#2 What does soil do for plants?

H: Quality soil gives us bigger leaves

M: 3 pea seeds using 3 methods were planted in the garden

P1 Peas with water and sun

P2 Peas with poor soil with water

P3 Peas with good soil, sun and water

Q#3 How does light affect plantʼs growth?

H: Plants donʼt need light but they grow better with light

M: Put 3 cups filled with seeds and soil into 3 areas of varying light

C1 Inside without light (closet)

C2 Create a collar of foil around the cup to maximize light capture

C3 Put cup outside with no foil collar

Garden Senses Exercise

How Does the Garden Feel?

Senses in the Garden:

Everyone had fun searching the garden and acting like a detective finding 18 different

textures, smell, sounds, colors, tastes. The “brightness” of each individual piece was


Cooking Project:

Cooking 3 different dishes using Polenta; Polenta crust pizza, soft polenta with olive oil, soft polenta with tomatoes, olive oil and mozzarella cheese, and apple upside down cake.

Polenta is a dish made from boiled cornmeal. When boiled, polenta has a smooth, creamy texture due to the gelatinization of starch in the grain.

Polenta Pizza

Let's Eat!

We watched Talia finish up cooking a pot of soft polenta. After adding the polenta to boiling water she stirred the mixture for over an hour. Her patience paid off as the batch passed the thickening test with her mixing spoon standing straight up from the mixture.

Owen, Kevin, Kimberly and others sliced and diced tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil to decorate the top of the polenta crust.

Everything was delicious.

The Tomatoes Are Coming!

From Sun Ripened to Sun Dried

From Sun Ripened to Sun Dried

I’m trying to remember this moment as the calm before the tomato storm. I have a feeling this nice hot weather is about to inundate us with tomato bounty. I have the drying screen, dehydrator and oven drying recipes ready to go. I’m still looking for the perfect catsup. Let us know if you have a recipe you like!

We will have quite a few of the Principe Borghese tomatoes ready to go first. They have been ripening one at a time here and there, but now there are suddenly *lots* of orange ones on the vines and the vines seem less robust, as if all their energy is going into the fruits now.

Shades of Genoa

Shades of Genoa

I am really looking forward to tasting the Costaluto Genovese tomatoes. They look wonderful on the vine with their deep creases and funky shapes.

I tried to count the other day and I think there are at least a dozen varieties of tomatoes growing in the Dirt to Dinner garden; Principe Borghese for drying, Roma for sauce and cooking, three varieties of grape tomato for eating, the Orange German Strawberry tomato my mother-in-law sent over for fun, the Big Beef for burgers and other slicing needs. And the there are what I think must be  the Crimson Carmellos, which grow like monsters! Green-GloryThey are the most robust tomato vines I have ever seen. If you are out late in the evening watering too close to this thing, I swear it might toss one brawny arm over your shoulders and keep you there all night telling you its garden tales as the moon rises.

The fruits are a shiny deep green and I know the label for the plant is hidden down there somewhere, behind the lost shallots that I foolishly thought might actually enjoy a little shade provided by the tomato. Ha! They better be nocturnal to be surviving under there. At least the Edamame beans still get some light from the side.

I am also enjoying the dry farmed tomatoes planted outside the fence in the squash garden. The squash aren’t big enough yet to be much help shading the ground, but the tomato plants still seem happy.

Romas Getting Ready

Romas Getting Ready

Between drying, making pizza sauce, making catsup, whatever the kids will eat in salads and on sandwhiches, I think we’re pretty much set for tomatoes!

And the really interesting thing is the way the tomatillos have taken off! There are both verde and whatever purple is in Spanish varieties out there and they have taken over the corner growing bed to a slightly unhealthy extreme. Yesterday I found some kind of mold growing on one of their leaves. I may need to get out there and pick off the affected parts of the plant. It’s so dense in this patch that the air circulation can’t be good.

Not sure why I didn’t figure out that tomatillo plants got so big and spready when we planted them. They all seem so small and helpless in the beginning! :-)


Growing Up

Leave a comment

Potato Build-A-Bed

Potato Build-A-Bed

The vertical growing we’re experimenting with in the Dirt to Dinner garden includes lots of different trials. We have a bed of All Blue potatoes that started out in a shallow raised bed in 4″ of soil. We are hammering on new boards and adding more soil until the potatoes are eventually growing through 2′ of soil in a raised bed at least that tall, in hopes of a larger potato harvest.

Bamboo and Bandannas

Bamboo and Bandannas

We have the Three Sisters beds where the corn will grow to support the beans that will climb up the stalks and the squash will, ideally, cover the ground, shade everybody’s roots and help keep the whole thing stable in a headwind. Luckily, the beds are up against the fence.

We are also using several different vertical methods with our tomato crops. The determinate plants, like the Romas and the drying tomatoes, are staked with bamboo poles since they aren’t expected to grow much more than 3′ tall.

And then we have the fancy stuff.

Scared of Heights?

Scared of Heights?

Like the four different varieties of watermelons we are trying to grow on trellising. (Ice Box, Yellow Doll, Tiger Baby and New Orchid) And the cantaloupe and Spaghetti Squash. And the dozen different winter squash from Italy with names none of us can pronounce that we are hoping to train onto netting strung between metal poles.

Some of it sounds crazy, I know. But vertical growing is hard to resist. The kids have 112 square feet in their individual growing boxes. When we add the trellising to the northern sides of the beds, that gives them, more or less, an additional 120 square feet of growing space on the vertical. The peas and the cucumbers will love it, maybe they will take their friends along?

Happy Climbers

Happy Climbers

If nothing else, the green beans will grow up the nets we have set out for them. They won’t be easier to pick this way, but we chose mostly drying beans to grow in this section so we don’t have to mess with them alot. And I did slip in some Kentucky Wonder on the end. I am hoping they will be worth the extra trouble to harvest.

From Grounds to Ground

1 Comment

Ground from Grounds

Ground from Grounds

I’ve been to a lot of Starbucks’ in the last couple weeks. I’m collecting coffe grounds for an experiment in one of the growing beds. Actually, I was going to compost the grounds along with some leftover sod the neighbor shared with us, and then add lots of compost to the growing bed, months from now or even next year when everything was ready. In the mean time, the dry and fragmented growing bed has some tomatoes and lots of winter squash varieites in it and they were going to need mulch and a lot of water to make it through the Summer.

Half-way through setting up the new compost bin, it struck me that maybe we could use the coffee grounds and the sod *as* the mulch while they were composting themselves into a new and improved growing medium for next year. Now, don’t try this at home yet. This may turn out to be like the time I had the great idea to butter the toast before I put it in the toaster oven hoping for a garlic bread kind of effect and the whole thing caught fire and had to be dropped out the second story window into the snow to save the rest of the apartment. But this seems, at the very least, much less likely to burst into flames if unsuccessful.

I gathered seven Starbucks-worth of coffee grounds. Which is an amazingly small amount at some stores. I’m sorry, but how could you possibly be selling coffee all day in a Starbucks and *not* have coffe grounds? I was turned away cold from store 5920 where they said they didn’t have to save their coffee grounds for customers. But most of the stores were happy to oblige and many of them even insisted on carrying heavy bags loaded with grounds out to my trunk. Thank you, Starbucks!

Caffeinated Tomatoes

Caffeinated Tomatoes

I had six or seven rolls of unwanted sod to go with the grounds. I spread out the grounds around the already planted tomatoes and squash mounds and raked them across the top of the soil we are hoping to improve. Then we covered the grounds with the unrolled sod, grass-side down, and watered the whole thing in. We plan to cover the area with another layer of coffee grounds and a mulch/compost from Kellogg’s called N’Rich. It will add some much needed variety to the soil with it’s bat guano, kelp, chicken manure and worm castings.

Then we’ll let the thing sit and the squash vines can crawl all over it and hopefully the tomatoes will grow in spite of what my grandmother always said about coffee causing stunting in the young. ;-) The idea is that the coffee layer will seep into the existing soil attracting worms who supposedly love coffee grounds. And maybe all that nitrogen will even warm things up enough that the sod layer will break down right there on the ground under the N’Rich and the squash will shade the whole thing and keep it from drying out while it’s magically converted into good growing soil.

We’ll put a shovel in it in the Fall and let you know what we’ve got. And if this year’s pumpkin pie keeps the kids from sleeping, we’ll all know why.