Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Getting Ready For Tomatoes and Peppers

I'm definitely dreaming about tomatoes and missing fresh ones so much that I actually succumbed to the temptation to buy a small tub of good looking dark striped grape tomatoes. And that experience has got me more motivated than ever to get the tomato growing process into full swing because those beauties were pretty blah.

Tomatoes and peppers are such a high priority for me that I devote one of my four beds just to them. I put the most effort into preparing that bed starting with a cover crop that I sow in winter.

I usually get the cover crop sown into the tomato/pepper bed sometime in January but this year the exceptionally wet weather kept me out of the garden a lot so I didn't get the bed cleared until later than usual. And then I found that one end of the bed was a mass of invading oak tree roots so I had to dig it out and extend the root barrier up the sides of the bed. But before I could do any major digging I had to cover the bed with a huge piece of heavy duty greenhouse plastic to allow it to dry a bit. Anyway, I finally got a cover crop sown by early February.

February 18
This year I used a mix of Kodiak mustard,  peas and oats, favas from an old packet of seeds, and some saved pea seeds from a variety that I don't grow anymore because of their susceptibility to powdery mildew when they mature.

March 22
The cover crop grew quickly and in just over a month was tall enough to turn in, if I had had the time and the weather had been dry enough. So it continued to grow...

April 19
And finally, nearly a month later the weather dried enough and I had the time to sharpen the hedge trimmers and get to work.


Whack, whack, whack, half way there.

All cut and ready to dig in the next day. And of course I woke up the next morning to rain, again, which was totally not in the forecast. So the digging waited another day or so...

April 22
Finally all dug in and almost ready for rot and worms to take over.

April 23
The last thing I do is to cover the entire bed with cardboard. Near the end of May I will remove the cardboard, pull back the drip lines again (they are turned off for now), and dig in compost, pulverized egg shells (a year of collecting), and my usual mix of organic amendments that I dig in before planting. The mix of amendments has change over time, the current mix includes organic soybean meal, feather meal, fishmeal, rock phosphate, kelp meal, azomite, and gypsum.

The mix of tomatoes has changed a bit from last year. There's more cherry tomatoes in the lineup this year. I've found that I really enjoy them dried, especially the ones that I season, and Dave eats a lot of them fresh, he takes a baggieful in his lunch most days in season. Here's the lineup, new varieties are marked with *:

Chianti Rose pink beefsteak
Green Bee crunchy when ripe green cherry*
Jaune Flamme orange salad type
Jazz* pink beefsteak with yellow stripes
Marzano Fire* red with yellow stripes paste
Mavritanskite brown beefsteak
Pantano red beefsteak
Piccolo Dattero red cherry
Purple Bumblebee* purple with green stripes cherry
Sunrise Bumblebee* yellow with pink marbling and yellow stripes cherry
Sweet Gold yellow cherry

You can read the detailed descriptions of each variety here, the seeds sources are also listed.

I sowed my tomato seeds on April 5 and just yesterday I potted most of them up into 3-inch pots. The target date for getting them into the garden is June 1.

My grow list for peppers in 2017 is quite ambitious again. There's a number of favorites returning and some that were new last year but that I didn't really get to try properly because of the raiding rodents, and there's a bunch of new ones that are marked with *.

Aji Amarillo Grande
Aji Angelo
Aji Golden*
Baby Aji Amarillo
Caribbean Seasoning*
Craig's Grande JalapeƱo
Ethiopian Brown*
Hungarian Magyar Paprika*
Joe's Giant Aji Amarillo*

Florina Greek
IPK P 262 (Turkey)
Lady Bell
Odessa Market
Petite Marseillais
Rosso Dolce da Appendere
Shepherd's Ramshorn
Topepo Giallo*
Violet Sparkle

You can read the descriptions of each variety here.

I pre-germinated all the pepper seeds on April 6, setting them on moist paper towels enclosed in plastic baggies. Many of them had germinated and were ready to sow into 2.5-inch pots by April 15. Then it took a few more days for the seedlings to emerge. The peppers are so slow to grow, they still haven't developed any true leaves yet.

I like the pre-germination method of starting peppers (thank you for the idea Margaret!). It takes so long for pepper seedlings to emerge from the soil that by the time I realize that there are germination issues it may be too late to sow a second round. Germinating the seeds on paper towels allows me to see if there are issues so that I can sow more seeds if necessary. That is especially helpful considering that I start my seeds fairly late and most of the peppers that I grow aren't varieties that I can just go out and buy.

Many of the seeds I sow get started indoors, some on a heat mat, some not. The summer veggies in particular seem to need the warmth to get off to a good or at least faster start. But as soon as the seedlings emerge I set them outside during the day. That gets them accustomed to natural sunlight right away and keeps the seedlings from getting weak and leggy. On rainy days they still go outside but they sit in a protected alcove. I bring them inside at night where they are protected from bugs and rodents and the heat lovers get to sleep on that cozy heat mat. Eventually the tomatoes and peppers will get to be outside day and night before I plant them in the garden, but I do put them into a jury rigged mini greenhouse to protect them at night.

I think I'm off to a pretty good start to the tomato and pepper season but I know that there's so much that can go wrong between now and harvest time. I don't even want to think about that... Keeping my fingers crossed!


  1. Great post! Good to read about all the advance preparation. Down here tomatoes have taken off, but peppers are really lagging. There are so many varieties of each, we have no cross overs.

  2. I am ready for fresh tomatoes too. I broke down and planted a few cherry toms last week behind the greenhouse. Like you, I am tending to grow more small tomatoes these days because they are just so useful. I'll have to try your seasoned dried ones this year, which would be one more use for them for me!

    The last photo looks like a lot of my areas, cardboard covered with boards or rocks or whatever I have available to weight them down.

  3. The number of tomatoes and peppers that we can grow is really governed by space on the greenhouses. They don't really do well for us outdoors.

  4. Your welcome :) And is that 64 peppers I'm counting?? Wow!

    With my short growing season, I started my peppers back in February otherwise I'd wouldn't get much of a harvest before frost hits. Funny thing is that we sow our tomatoes at the same time (I did mine on the 10th). I actually pushed up their sowing date a couple of years ago as they were just getting too large before transplanting and I'm much too lazy to pot them up a 2nd time - unlike peppers, tomatoes seem to shoot up in no time.

    Love the google docs with variety descriptions...I'm really interested in hearing your opinion on the Habanada; I can't imagine what a habanero with no heat would be like as whenever I have used them, all I taste is the heat.

  5. It's crazy how much rain you've gotten this year, the hillsides all around you are so green. I'm so ready to get my hands in the dirt, but am stuck waiting for the ground to dry up.

  6. Nice progress! Your seedling looks so healthy. This season I'm having problem with the seedling.

  7. What a terrific list of plants! I really have to look into what cover crops will work in my area - not sure if my non-gardening season is too short, but I sure like the concept.


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