Summer dreaming

It's pretty cruel to have to start tomato seeds when it's 26 degrees outside. The weather down here is nuts right now. Hot! Cold! Lovely! THIRTEEN DEGREES! Summer may be miserable, but at least it's predictable. This yo-yo weather is toying with my emotions.

These are the lettuces and greens we started about two and a half weeks ago. As you can see, everything's going swimmingly. 

As I mentioned in an earlier post, hot weather favorites like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants need to be 6-8 weeks old before they are transplanted outside. They're "tender" crops, meaning they will be hurt by frosts and killed by freezing weather. You have to walk the line a bit between getting them into the ground early enough to get a jump on the season, but late enough to not be damaged by one last surprise cold weather event. That's what happened last year, we got all the transplants in at the end of March "on schedule" and surprise! An early April freeze. It had been raining for days, too, so not only was it absolutely frigid, it was muddy. Like, rip the boot right off your foot muddy. We had no choice but to roll the frost cloth back out, or lose all our tomatoes and peppers for the season. It was not fun, but it did net me this awesome picture. 

That day sucked.

We've gotten wiser (*guffaw*). Here around the Metroplex, we plan for our last frost to be around March 22nd. We'll go ahead and transplant the kids then, and immediately wrap them up in frost cloth until all danger of cold weather has passed in April. It's a nice adjustment for the plants, too, it keeps the bugs off and lets them transition another step between the 50% shade of the greenhouse and glaring direct sunshine. They can actually sunburn significantly if you get a stretch of really sunny days right after you put them out. 

Today I dug into ye olde Chest o' Seeds and started 10 varieties of tomatoes, 20 of peppers, 4 of eggplants, 9 of herbs, and a tray of scallion bunches. It couldn't be easier, you just shake a few seeds into your hand, grab one or two with tweezers, place them in the middle of the soil plug, and so on to the next block. When the tray is full, you go back and press each seed lightly into its block (I use the butt of a pen) and away they go. I use a sophisticated popsicle stick method to keep track of who's who.

Next we dunk the trays into water (each plug has a hole in the bottom) and line them on a shelf. As soon as they germinate, Farmer Pop will turn the grow lights on above them (they don't need light to germinate, so before they do all the lights really do is dry them out), then water and babysit them for the next two months. They'll move to the greenhouse once it's nice out.

The tomatoes will need to be "potted on," meaning they'll exhaust the space and nutrients provided by the li'l soil plug in 4 weeks or so and we'll need to actually plant the plugs into a bigger intermediate container. We just use Solo cups with holes drilled through the bottom. Loooow budget. Some gardeners will pot their tomatoes on repeatedly until up to a gallon-sized container or larger so that when they're finally transplanted into the ground, they're that much closer to maturity (and sweet, sweet tomatoes). It's just not practical for us, since we're planting hundreds of these suckers and a gallon-sized plant is pretty unwieldy.

There you have it! I'll post weekly progress pics so you can see what they look like every step of the way. In the meantime, I believe I have a few carrots to pick.