Indoor/Outdoor Gardening

Phew! This was a busy day in the garden and I've got a lot to share.

First, a belated update to Indoor Gardening. Now it's outdoors! Starting plants from seed was a resounding success. With the LED grow light setup in the laundry room, the seedlings did great. I just left the light on 24 hours a day and the plants that got the most light right under the fixtures grew quickly and strong. I was able to rotate out the strongest plants to south-facing windows and put the smaller seedlings directly under the lights to grow better.

The tomatoes in particular did really well under the lights and flourished in the window when they were repotted at about 5"-6" tall. I also had success with hot and sweet peppers, eggplant and cucumbers. My rosemary is growing very slowly, but then again I think that's just what rosemary does.

After trying to transplant some lettuces and broccoli when they were still too young, I opted instead to just sow seeds directly in the soil. My front garden became my area for all these cool-weather crops because I was far too lazy to walk over to the community garden plot to dig in the cold, wet soil. But these plants did great when sewn directly in soil and I've had my first big pile of lettuces for a delicious salad. Not surprisingly, I now have more leafy vegetables than I really want and I've tried to pawn off the lettuces to my downstairs neighbors. But it's really fulfilling to have the first harvest of the year behind me and I look forward to more the interesting vegetables of summer. I've got peas going in the front garden too which now have a couple flowers on them so they'll hopefully be producing in the near future.

We've had a pretty cool and very wet spring--the Mississippi is chronically flooding--and so even though it's several weeks past the last frost date of April 15 I haven't been brave enough to put in my warm weather crops until now. Today was a beautiful day for doing so though: warm but not hot, with some occasional cloud cover. I went over to the community plot I've rented for the summer and transplanted four tomato plants, three peppers and two eggplants while putting in some seed onions as well. Oh and a cucumber. I started the cucumber indoors although I don't think that's really necessary or even recommended. I'm not sure they survive transplanting very well, but they grow so quickly that if the transplantation doesn't work I can just sew some seeds soon.

What's really intriguing about tomatoes is that because they have evolved to vine over the ground, wherever the stem touches soil it grows new roots. So a strategy for developing a really strong tomato plant is to remove a few of the lower leaves and dig a short trench. You lay the tomato down in the trench and cover up a lot of the stem with soil, leaving just a few leaves at the top. The top will quickly orient to grow against gravity and the whole stem will turn into a new root structure that will give the aerial portions plenty of support and the ability to gather water and nutrients from a wider area. I haven't done it before, but I'm excited to see if it helps my tomatoes flourish in the summer.

Another strategy I look forward to implementing is to actively prune my tomatoes. If you've ever grown tomatoes then you know that it's so easy for them to get overgrown and even get so big they fall over. This is the problem in trying to pretend that a vine is an upright plant. But apparently an easy solution is just to prune them back, like a tree or a grapevine. Once the plant is established and tries to grow extra stems, you just pinch them off at the base. This puts more of the plant's energy into the remaining foliage and fruits to promote ripening and keep the plant from falling over under its own weight.

Hopefully my tomatoes and other warm-weather crops survive the transplanting process well enough. In truth, I should have more carefully hardened them off to survive cooler temperatures and the scorching sun. But they are so hardy right now and the weather is basically perfect that I think I'll be fine, especially as the tomatoes grow new roots.

That finished off all my indoor plants, so I've turned off the LEDs and I'll have to clean up the soggy, wet cardboard boxes that housed my plants for the last few months. I have some other plants I can start from seed--pole beans, more carrots, some herbs--but I think I'm done with the laundry room setup. It's really satisfying to finally get my plants in the ground after nurturing them for months indoors. I've only ever bought seedlings to transplant, but it seems my own plants are somehow stronger. The whole process definitely gives me a level of satisfaction I haven't known before in my gardening experience and I hope I can repeat it next year.

As a topic preview, today I hosted an outreach event at my community garden brining some plant scientists to talk about medicinal plants, domestication and GMOs. It was small, but largely successful and as always I've learned more about how to host such events in the future. That post will be up soon.