Monday, October 19, 2020

Fall and Winter Tomatoes...From Your Greenhouse


506 Bush Tomatoes on New Year's Day
If you really want to demonstrate to your friends what a great investment your greenhouse is, nothing beats serving them home grown tomatoes...on New Year's Day.

Here's What You'll Need to Grow Greenhouse Tomatoes for the Winter and Spring:

A greenhouse or an indoor area with lots of light and heat. On line, check out the selection at Washington State-based Charley's Greenhouse. Also, check out the Sturdi-Built greenhouses of Portland, Oregon. Here in Northern California, there's Greenhouse Megastore in West Sacramento.

The Right Tomato. For the typical hobby greenhouse (8x5, 8x10, 8x12), cool season "determinate" tomatoes are best. These tend to be fairly compact plants (under 4 feet tall) that do not put on lots of growth after they set fruit. Determinate tomatoes usually ripen at the same time; so, choose several tomatoes that will ripen at different times, going from seed to fruit in 50-70 days. To minimize disease problems, choose tomatoes that have "built-in" disease resistance. These will have the letters "V" (verticillium wilt-resistant), "F" (fusarium wilt) "N" (nematodes), "T" (tobacco mosaic virus) and "A" (alternaria fungus) after the variety name of the tomato.

"Warm Greenhouse" or indoor room. This is one that maintains a nighttime temperature range of 55-70 degrees, preferably above 60 degrees for tomatoes. Daytime temperatures should range from 75-85 degrees. A heater, in conjunction with a thermostatically controlled vent fan, can easily provide that temperature range here in the Valley and foothills.

Sunlight. Tomatoes need full sun, at least six hours of direct sun a day. Try to position your greenhouse so that it can take best advantage of the low angle of the sun during the cold months, making sure the building isn't shaded by any evergreen trees or other structures.

Artificial light. Because of the lower intensity of the sun and the persistence of valley fog and low clouds during the winter, you will need a lighting system to supplement any natural light. Although there are many artificial lighting systems available, fluorescent lights are the most economical. Use four, 40-watt, 48-inch long fluorescent tubes side by side, keeping them 8-12 inches above the plants. Although standard "shop lights" are OK, investing in Gro-Lux wide spectrum fluorescent tubes will give your tomatoes more of the light spectrum that they can use. For the latest in grow light technology, including LED's, check this page at 
Charley's Greenhouse.  

Water. Although the cooler temperatures of the fall and winter will cut down on the amount of water that tomatoes need, a drip system connected to a timer will insure that the plants get the moisture they need. Four to eight gallons of water per week per plant should be plenty.

Soil. Planting directly into the ground of the greenhouse is OK, as long as the soil drains readily, has been amended with organic matter and isn't compacted. Building raised beds into the floor of your greenhouse works best. Make the sides of the raised bed 8-16 inches high, and at least 18 inches wide. The bed can be framed by a number of things, including untreated wood, blocks, bricks, or stacked old tires. Growing tomatoes indoors in plastic 5-gallon or 15 gallon pots works well, too. There are a lot of good container soil mixes on the market for tomatoes and vegetables, including Gardner & BloomeRecipe 420Black GoldDr. Earth and Fox Farms.

Hydroponic Systems. The technology for these has changed radically since I last used one, decades ago. Check with your local hydroponics store or nursery for more information about the latest and greatest.

Fertilizer. Because plants tend to slow down their growth in the colder months, cut your dosage of your favorite tomato fertilizer by half. For example, if the directions for a water-soluble fertilizer say to add 1 tablespoon per gallon of water, pour that same tablespoon into 2 gallons of water during the winter feeding periods. A once-a-month application should be plenty.

A Pollinator. In nature, bees and wind do most of the tomato pollination in the home garden. In the greenhouse, you can accomplish the same task by either gently shaking or holding an electric toothbrush (or similar device) next to the plant; twirling a small brush inside a tomato flower will transfer the pollen.

A Fan. A gentle breeze blowing across the plants for several hours a day aids pollination and helps strengthen the plants' main stems. Air movement also reduces the threat of fungal diseases.

 Some greenhouse tomato variety suggestions for the colder months:

Bush Early Girl VFFNT Hybrid. A bushy plant that produces 6-7 oz. fruit. Determinate, 54 days.

Bush Beefsteak. The fruit averages 8 oz. each on a compact plant. Determinate, 62 days.

Clear Pink Early. 2-3 foot tall plant produces pink tomatoes, about 3-6 oz. Determinate, 58 days.

Grushovka. A pink, egg-shaped, 3-inch long tomato from Siberia. Plants are under three feet tall. Determinate, 65 days.

Manitoba. The fruit is over 6 oz. in size, very productive and early. Determinate, 60 days.

Northern Exposure
. A compact plant that produces 8 oz. "Big Boy" style tomatoes. Determinate, 67 days.

Oregon Spring V.
 Developed at Oregon State University for short season gardens. Medium sized fruit that is nearly seedless. Determinate, 58 days.

Pilgrim VFFA Hybrid
. 8 oz. fruit on a compact plant that boasts excellent yields and good flavor. Determinate, 65 days.

Polar Baby. Developed in Alaska. 2-inch salad tomatoes. Determinate, 60 days.

Prairie Fire. 3-5 oz. tomatoes on short plants. Tangy flavor. Determinate, 55 days.

Red Robin
. The plants get only 12 inches tall, producing cherry-sized tomatoes. Good choice for hanging baskets. Determinate, 63 days.

Siberia. A favorite of Canadian greenhouses, this bushy plant reportedly will set fruit at temperatures as low as 38 degrees. Fruit is under 2 inches in diameter. Determinate, 55 days.

Siletz. 10-12 oz. tomato developed in Oregon. Determinate, 52 days.

Sub Arctic Maxi.
 For very cold climates. 2 oz. fruit on a small plant. Determinate, 62 days.

Sweet Tangerine. Orange-red colored fruit. Determinate, 68 days.

Tumbler. Cherry-sized tomatoes in seven weeks. Good choice for hanging baskets. Determinate, 49 days.

506 Bush. Plants only get 18 inches tall, are drought tolerant and produce medium sized tomatoes. Determinate, 62 days.

 Online sources for these tomato seeds include Tomato Grower's Supply Company and Totally Tomatoes.

Pest Management. In our experience the biggest problem was whitefly infestations. Yellow sticky traps can let you know you have a problem as well as control small outbreaks. Insecticidal soap may be necessary for control of the whitefly problem starts growing. In case of a severe outbreak on a tomato plant, the easiest and most effective course of action? Get rid of the plant.

However...although there are a lot of benefits to growing tomatoes in the fall and winter, there is a lot of time and expense associated with it, especially the heating costs. And, don't expect the sweet, succulent taste of a summer-grown outdoor tomato. But the taste IS better than a store-bought tomato. Just more expensive.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Pretty But Deadly: Pokeweed Returns for Fall


"Fall Color" isn't just limited to the changing hues of the leaves of deciduous trees this time of year. There are lots of colorful shrubs right now, producing flowers and berries, many of which are outstanding garden plants: cotoneaster, toyon, bottlebrush, the strawberry tree, Oregon grape, pyracantha and beautyberry, for example. But there are some pretty poisonous plants putting on a show right now in Northern California. Plants, that if you get a little too curious, could knock you on your ass.
For example, Laura writes in, with pictures:


This gorgeous invasive plant invading her Citrus Heights backyard? Pokeweed.

 After posting these pictures at the Get Growing with Farmer Fred Facebook Page, valley and foothill gardeners responded with words of warning:

"It is poisonous and it is becoming an invasive weed in California and so is posted as a noxious weed. I had a friend who had them in their yard and their son wrongfully thought they were elderberries so they had picked a bunch to make jam. Thankfully she didn't get time to make that jam and they got moldy."

"Definitely pokeweed...would not recommend putting in the compost pile...they also have a deep tap root and are hard to get rid of...Placer County posted a warning on this plant as being both poisonous and invasive."

Cindy Fake of the Placer County Cooperative Extension office has written extensively about the dangers of pokeweed (Phytolacca americana, also known as pokeberry, inkberry and American pokeweed):

"If you have seen this plant, beware!  Pokeweed, a poisonous invasive species, has become more and more common...pokeweed is a rapidly growing perennial shrub, up to 10 feet tall, with large leaves and red stems. While some homeowners may be tempted to keep pokeweed in their gardens because of the pretty white flowers and glossy dark purple berries, all parts of the plant are toxic to humans, pets, and other mammals. Pokeweed berries provide food for birds, which are not affected by the toxins. However, the birds then spread the seeds, helping the plant to invade orchards, fields and yards, and competing with crops and ornamentals. Once established, pokeweed can be very difficult to eradicate.  It grows a very large taproot, and can have multiple stalks growing from a single root. Do not put plants or berries in green waste disposal bins or in compost. Unfortunately, the taproot usually remains and often resprouts the following year." 
The UC Integrated Pest Management Pest Note on Pokeweed, released in September 2020, has  removal tips:
"Hand pulling is effective on small plants. Once plants are established and develop an extensive root system, hand removal is difficult. Digging out established plants with a shovel is effective, but often difficult in summer when soils are dry. Established plants may have large roots that must be removed to prevent regrowth. Cultivation can be effective on new seedlings in raised beds or other areas where tilling can be used. Cultivation on large established plants is not effective. When removing mature plants, ripe berries should be bagged and discarded so the seeds don’t reinfest the soil." Consult that Pest Note on eradicating pokeweed with herbicides. Read and follow all label directions.
More pokeweed facts here and here.

Those of you from the South may recall "poke salad" as more than a song by Tony Joe White. As Cindy Fake points out: "in some parts of the US, young pokeweed leaves are eaten after extensive processing to remove toxins, but even after processing, some toxins remain, so consumption is not recommended."
Agreeing with that is the California Poison Control System, which reports pokeweed (Inkberry) as a Class 3 toxin: "Ingestion of these plants is expected to cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and other symptoms that may cause illness but is not life-threatening."

• Do NOT induce vomiting.
• Remove any plant parts from the mouth or hands.
• Wash around the mouth and hands and give a few sips of water.
• Check for any irritation of the skin, mouth or tongue.
• Call the California Poison Control System at 1-800-222-1222

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Pepper Seeds Slow to Germinate? Some MORE Tips

Home gardeners who grow their tomatoes from seed usually get fairly quick results after sowing the seeds indoors. Given the right germinating conditions - a soilless planting mix, good drainage, plenty of light, plenty of warmth - tomato seeds can pop up in 8-10 days.
Pepper seeds are a different story. Why is it some peppers can take weeks to germinate?

"The important thing in getting your (pepper) seeds to germinate is to keep them warm – the soil temperature should be in the 80's", says Renee Shepherd of Renee's Garden, a popular seed catalog based in Felton, California. "Germination is very much related to even moisture and warm temperatures. You should see germination within 2 to 3 weeks if it's warm enough. I strongly suggest using bottom heat to achieve the warmth the seeds need – most good nurseries carry good little electric seed starting mats which will keep your seeds at the right temperature to sprout. A local mail order source is Peaceful Valley Farm Supply."
For those who want to comparison shop, another source for heating mats for your pepper seeds: Amazon.

Another trick that some gardeners employ is soaking the pepper seed for a few hours before sowing to soften the seed coat. The value of that is open to debate.

"I have never heard of soaking pepper seed overnight and have never done it in 20 years of running a trial garden,"  says Shepherd.

On the other hand, Professor Debbie Flower, formerly of the American River College Horticulture Department, sees the benefits of some "immersion therapy" for pepper seeds. "We soaked our pepper seeds in hydrogen peroxide for 10 minutes," explains Flower. "That's not enough time to scarify (soften or break the seedcoat), or even get them soaked, but enough to kill exterior diseases."

Many sweet pepper varieties will show their initial leaves about two weeks after planting the seeds. But some varieties of peppers take longer to pop up than others. "The hot pepper varieties take longer to germinate, some to three weeks," says Flower.

But if you are experimenting with the really hot pepper varieties, such as the Bhut Jolokia (Ghost Pepper), it could take up to four months, says the Trade Winds Fruit website:
"Chinense species (e.g. Habanero's) generally take longer to germinate than most common peppers. Keep soil warm to very warm (75-90F) for better germination. Do not use acidic soil. Some Chinense peppers, in particular Bhut Jolokia, Naga Morich and related peppers are very slow to germinate, averaging 1-4 months germination time."

By the way, if you are growing the Bhut're playing with fire. The Ghost Pepper is rated at 850,000 Scoville units of heat. For comparison, the habanero rates 200,000; the Jalapeno is 5,000; the Anaheim equals 1,000. And sweet bell peppers? 0.
This is as hot as I can stand. The Inferno: 4,000 Scoville Heat Units

Another factor that can determine the rate of germination of pepper seeds: the pH of your seed starting mix. One of the most common ingredients in most seed starting mixes is peat moss, which is highly acidic, with a pH around 4.0. Pepper heads, including the Horticulture students at American River College, have found quicker germination when Coir (coconut fiber) is substituted for peat moss. Coir has a closer-to-neutral pH: around 6.5. The tests at American River College bear this out after trying Coir in their pepper seed soil mix. "We've had the best germination of peppers ever!" says Flower.

And don't be in a rush to set them out in their permanent garden home. "Pepper seedlings need to be grown out until they have at least several sets of true leaves, and it is at least 55° at night before you plant them out," explains Renee Shepherd.  "And they will need a little time to get used to being outdoors, as well."
Here in the Sacramento area, that would be around  mid-May. Be patient. 
Now, for the MORE tips portion: Since first posted eight years ago, this blog report has received a lot of attention. The beauty of that...lots of pepper growers have chimed in about their preferred methods for growing peppers.
One method that was seconded by many: germinate your pepper seeds in between two moist paper towels in a room that is between 70 and 80 degrees. For many, that room might be the kitchen or bathroom. When the "tails" appear after about 6 or 7 days (the tails, by the way, are the emerging roots), gently transplant them into a moist, seed starting mix, preferably one that uses the more neutral coir instead of the lower pH peat moss. Or, make your own. My preferred home mix consists of equal parts coir, perlite and fine compost. 
The improvements I would make to that germination suggestion? Use coffee filters instead of paper towels. That way, the emerging root doesn't get tangled, as happens when using fibrous paper towels. Pulling out germinated seeds from paper towels may be hazardous to their health.
Also, to insure a warm environment, here's something you could do in just about any indoor room: place the moist coffee filters, containing the pepper seeds, inside a glass baking pan. Place that on top of a germination mat. Cover the baking pan with plastic wrap to keep it warmer. I tried this at home, pepper seeds germinated with six days.