I came home after six days away on a camping trip with my grandchildren to find everything in the garden and greenhouse in good shape, thanks to Emily Jones and Tori French. It’s transplanting time!
I transplant my tomatoes as soon as they have four true leaves. Tomato seedlings can get a little leggy, even in a greenhouse, especially mine, shrouded as it is part of the day by pines and oaks, so I always plant them a little deeper in the larger container than they grew when they sprouted in the 6-packs. This takes advantage of the remarkable ability of tomatoes to root from their stems.
These seedlings will likely be transplanted at least once more before they go out into the garden, and each time, I will plant them deeper into larger pots or the garden box beds. By the time they are set out in the garden, they will have stocky stems and well-developed, healthy root systems. It’s hard to believe, looking at them now, that some of them will grow to be over six feet tall.
I set my tomatoes out in the garden, under protection, sometime in May. I have set out tomatoes under Walls of Water as early as April, but when I get over-eager, they tend to get leggy and outgrow the protection before the danger of frost is past. I’ve learned it’s best to wait, hard as it is for me to be patient!
We can get killing frosts here into June, so I want sturdy plants, well-leafed out plants, but I don’t want them to be blooming when I set them out. Transplanting at the wrong time, when the plant is already blooming and trying to set fruit, can retard the timing of the harvest and lessen the number of tomatoes you’ll get. I want my plants to be about 7-8 inches tall when I set them out, and I don’t want any blossoms. Potting up deeper early on can help control the tomato’s urge to bloom in the warm conditions in the greenhouse; the plant puts its energy into growing roots from that newly-buried portion of the stem rather than into blossoms.
The bell peppers will stay inside the greenhouse, growing in the planter box, and that’s where I’m transplanting them instead of potting them up. That’s the only way I’ll ever harvest a pepper here. They take so long to grow and set and bear and ripen fruit, and my garden gets enough shade to make them a very iffy crop outside.
My one lone habanero (only one seed of three sprouted) will stay in the greenhouse as well. It is so small that I will not transplant it for at least several more weeks, and these peppers grow so slowly, I may not get any fruit from it at all. I didn’t get any ripe fruit from my two habaneros last year, but I am nothing if not dogged in my pursuit of homegrown hot peppers for hot sauce.
The jalapeno and serrano peppers, my salsa peppers, will go outside. Their fruit is small enough and they bear quickly enough, I can grow them in the garden. But they really hate cool nights, so they will be potted up until it is safe to move them outside, probably around the first of June, and even then, I will give them some protection at night for a few weeks.
Eggplants are a relatively new crop for me. I grew them last year for the first time, and I got my seed so late, and they grew so slowly, I decided to leave them in the greenhouse. It was a wise decision; otherwise, I’d have harvested far fewer eggplants when the first frost hit outside. As it was, I still had fruit maturing in the greenhouse where it stayed warmer for several weeks in November last year. This year, I have five seedling plants ready for transplanting much earlier than last year, so three of them will go in the greenhouse planter box, and I’ll put two outside eventually and see how they do in the garden.
Just before we left for the camping trip, Dennis brought home ten tomato plants for me from town. Six are Early Girls, which is my reliable, “old faithful” tomato which always does well in my garden, has great sweet flavor, makes a good crop, and is good eaten fresh, canned, chopped for salsa, dried, or sauced. I have not yet grown Early Girls or Sun Golds from purchased seed because I haven’t found a reputable source for the seed which is guaranteed to be non-GMO. Of course, there’s no telling whether the plants Dennis bought are non-GMO, but I’m unwilling to directly support a seed company that won’t guarantee non-GMO seeds. The other four plants are Sun Gold, those delectable little golden-orange cherry-type tomatoes that are plant candy. I love them. I let some seed volunteer a couple of times, and the first year I got what were recognizably Sun Gold, but the second year, the parent genes of a small sweet red cherry surfaced, and half the plants bore red cherries. That was okay, too. This year, I have no volunteers, so when Dennis called from town and said Ace had Early Girls and Sun Golds, and they weren’t root-bound in 4 inch pots, and were only 88 cents each, I said, “Get some!” I transplanted them about 10 days ago into half-gallon pots, burying them deeply, and they have already doubled in size. They might have to be transplanted into the garden early, partly because one of the Sun Golds is already blooming, despite being potted up. Maybe I didn’t bury that stem quite deep enough! The other reason I might have to move them into the garden in a week or so is that they are sitting where an eggplant or bell pepper needs to grow!
This week, I’ll start the other tender crops that have to be babied until they can be set out: melons and squashes. The only melon I’ve been successful with here is Minnesota Midget. I can’t get a standard-sized cantaloupe to ripen, and watermelons don’t do well either, but the Minnesota Midgets are perfect, sweet, cantaloupey balls of goodness. The flavor is outstanding, and if you haven’t tried these little gems, I highly recommend them. I had to buy fresh seed this year and made sure I got them from a seed company that does not deal with GMO seeds.
I don’t get enough sun on the garden for long enough to ripen the big melons, but pumpkins and winter squash, and zucchini and yellow straightnecks do well for me. They can’t be set out until the soil warms up and the nights aren’t so cool, so usually, I put them out in May, under protection, and hope. And pray. They grow quickly and need to be set out before their roots grow through the peat pots, so the last week of April is the right time to get them started. They will take the place of the peppers and eggplants in the heated sandbox.
I have so much lettuce in the greenhouse, I don’t know if we can eat it all, even if we eat a big salad every day, but it is so good, I could easily eat a salad of it every day.
When it first came up, I thought it was romaine, because I thought I’d let the romaine volunteer in the greenhouse like I do outside. (I haven’t planted regular romaine in years because it keeps volunteering.) But as the lettuce developed, I could see it wasn’t romaine, and I remembered that I’d planted some salad bowl mix in the fall of 2012, and only one plant survived into the spring of 2013. I think it was oak leaf, and I let it go to seed in the greenhouse last summer. Those seedlings have flourished, along with the spinach I let go to seed and volunteer, so every few days, I have to go in and thin out the greens, making room for the eggplants, peppers, and Cherokee Purple tomatoes (the only tomatoes I’ll have in the greenhouse this year) in the planter box. What a hardship. If you compare these pictures with the ones I took last week, you can see how much the plants have grown in just a week. I cut and thinned a bunch of it for a salad for Easter, too.
I love transplanting. I love getting my fork (just an old table fork) under those little root balls and prying them up, then giving them a new, bigger home in a larger pot. I love watching them respond to my care, growing up into sturdy, strong-stemmed, healthy-leaved plants that will produce food for my family over the summer and long after, when properly preserved. I wonder if a heart surgeon derives more pleasure from replacing a human heart than I get from transplanting my seedlings? The surgeon is saving a life; I’m feeding several. She can’t grow the heart she’s transplanting (at least, not yet). These babies are here because I planted the seeds. That’s a feeling only gardeners (and parents) know.
There’s a lot of transplanting work to be done over this coming week. I can hardly wait to show you next week’s pictures and progress report.
I’ll leave you with a photo of apple blossoms, which have nothing to do with transplanting, but have everything to do with spring. And if you are not fortunate enough to have an apple tree in your vicinity, at least you can have a picture of them.