video tutorials, tried-and-true tips + our latest learnings to surround you with abundance all season long
published in the Small Farms Journal, Winter 2019-2020
By Petra Page-Mann
They told you to order from the catalog. To plant in tilled soil. To get big or get out. To dig in, to fit in, to simply follow the instructions on the package.
They promised you yield and markets, profitability and prosperity, stability and security, if you would just do what you’re told.
They sold you big tractors with bigger debt and small, patented seeds, a certain social grace with less than a living wage.
Now we know: We reap what we sow.
In the last century, farmers and their communities have been uprooted from our ten-thousand-year legacy: The seeds themselves. As seeds have moved from commons to commodity, it is no longer common to find a farmer growing their own seed, much less involved in any breeding process.
Yet we are.
With every bite.
For many of us, there is no summer without tomatoes.
When you're sowing tomato seeds, you're sowing summer!
And sigh: Growing gorgeous tomato transplants from seed is *not* especially easy.
Here's the counter-intuitive truth: Younger, unstressed transplants often yield many times the abundance of old, stressed transplants.
No matter how short your seasons are, starting seeds earlier than is optimal is simply undermining your abundance.
Also, your goal for any transplant (also potentially counter-intuitive!) is for your seedling to be as short, stout & deep green as possible. Short and stout because they're not leggy, stretching and stressed for light. Deep green because they're fully photosynthesizing and not nutrient-deficient.
Growing healthy tomato transplants is not easy, Friends.
Being honest with ourselves about how well we grow transplants indoors is even harder!
Here are common mistakes to save you heartache as well as how to sow...
Each year we grow acres of organic gardens, saving hundreds of thousands (if not millions...) of seeds of tried-and-true varieties we love as we continue to adapt them to our short seasons, year after year. Each year we also grow dozens upon dozens of new varieties, exploring and experimenting, discovering new joys and learning ever, always.
This season we're delighted to share seed with you of some gems we've found and here is a tiny taste of them all :)
Where do we begin? The flavor, the story, the abundance, the near spinelessness? If you don't have time for it all, know this: Haifa's Finest is a Fruition-bred variety, the most flavorful zucchini you'll likely ever eat. Imagine exceptional nuttiness with a creamy density that melts in your mouth --- you won't be tossing these in neighbor's mailboxes, I suspect :)
After six years of selections, we're so excited to finally share our lusciously nutty, super creamy and nearly...
Saving tomato seed is deceptively simple, Friends.
Yes, you can simply separate each seed from the fruit, rinsing and drying them before tucking them in an envelope to sow next season.
But here's the thing: That clear membrane surrounding each seed is full of anti-germination compounds. Unless that membrane is removed, only about 30% or so of your seeds will germinate. Which isn't the worst, but it's far from the best.
For thousands of years our ancestors have fermented tomato seeds, effectively neutralizing those anti-germination compounds as well as removing some seed-borne diseases. It's a gloriously simple process.
Once tomatoes are fully ripe, the seeds inside are fully mature.
Saving fruit from your best plants is essential. The healthiest plant, the most productive, most disease-resistant, most delicious: This is the plant you want to feed --- and by fed by --- for generations to come. You're selecting seed as well as saving...
It's almost Memorial Day!
Here in Zone 5, we're so ready to transplant tomatoes :)
And Friends, transplanting is deceptively simple. Doing it well is the difference between harvesting a bit and harvesting abundance.
Here is exactly how we transplant tomatoes, after years of trial and error, and I hope these keys surround you with great abundance!
First things first:
Friends, resist planting too early.
It's counter-intuitive in our short seasons to not plant warm-season plants like tomatoes as early as possible, but here's the thing: Young, healthy transplants yield greater abundance compared to older, stressed transplants. Every time.
Also, think of tomatoes, basil, peppers and other warm season crops as ‘cold-sensitive’ rather than ‘frost-sensitive.’
A pepper, for example, experiencing temps less than 55 F will cross her proverbial arms and pout for a few weeks (if not months) in protest of her apparent lack of...
In our gardens and in our lives, timing is everything.
And Friends, it is so easy to start seeds way too early.
My dear friend Sal and I created a planting calendar for you to help nail your timing this season!
It's counter-intuitive, but plants started too early often get stressed (too little light, too few nutrients) and thus produce later and less abundantly than younger plants that are less stressed.
So hold your horses, dear Friends!
And here is our calendar for Zones 4 through 6 to keep you on track:
Each online order this season will receive one of our planting calendars, as well :)
You'll find a ton of information on this chart and each of our packets are mini-encyclopedias of information, as well. In addition to longer growing instructions, there is a quick reference tab with some pretty handy advice to have at arm's length. You'll find plant spacing after thinning, whether to direct sow or transplant (or both), days to germination, when to sow and seeding...
Friends, sowing well-adapted varieties makes organic gardening SO much easier.
In any size garden, on any scale farm.
Container gardens, especially.
Two main factors:
How much space does this variety take up? Some varieties are more compact than others, making them more optimal for container gardening.
Will this variety thrive with less than optimal nutrients and less even watering? Both are realities of most container gardens, so starting with resilient seeds makes all the difference.
I grew up in my father's garden here in the Finger Lakes, where we planted all kinds of vegetables, flowers, and herbs in old wine barrels that had been cut in half. Our main gardens were in the soil, but I had a particular fondness for our wine barrels lining our walkway, spilling over with parsley and marigolds, lettuce and peppers. Just like our dogs delight when we returned home, so happy to greet us, our...
Is a deceptively obvious question.
No matter our preconceived notions of color & shape, a tomato is ripe when its soft to the touch.
The best way to judge if a tomato is ripe is not by the color, but it's softness.
Touch your arm, squeeze it gently: Both firm and supple, your arm as well as your ripe tomato can be plied and is ready to bounce back instantly.
And yes, I am totally encouraging you to squeeze your tomatoes...!
Do your otherwise ripe tomatoes still have green or orange shoulders? Let’s talk.
First, know this: tomatoes photosynthesize sugars from the sun not only in their green leaves, but directly in their green fruit, as well. About 80% of the flavor in a tomato comes from the energy harnessed in leaves, the balance from the fruit itself.
Second: There are different levels of photosynthetic molecules and not all are equally powerful.
Third: The most powerful ones take the longest to ‘break...
If you're growing tomatoes in the Northeast, you're likely growing tomato diseases, as well.
Here is how to identify the four most common tomato diseases here in the Northeast and what to do next.
Blossom-End Rot is an abysmal disappointment that is both manageable and preventable. Affecting paste and roma types more than other tomatoes, blossom-end rot is mostly an issue with the first set of fruit, quickly disappearing once conditions shift for the better.
Remove fruits affected by blossom-end rot as early as possible (like the fruit on the right), since the next flush will likely not be affected.
Symptoms: black, leathery lesion at the blossom-end of the fruit, often visible when fruit is still green and quite small, becoming larger as the fruit matures.
Cause: Calcium deficiency. More accurately, it's a water deficiency. Here is how I visualize it: Calcium is a huge ion while others are small, so calcium needs more water to be absorbed...
Growing up in the Finger Lakes of New York, high elevation Zone 5, I have the mantra of "Memorial Day is Final Frost" deeply embedded in my brain. I am constantly questioning my assumptions about myself and the world around me; this year I was inspired to dig a little deeper into this maxim.
Are historic frost dates still relevant?
potatoes are ideally planted three weeks before final frost
Pouring over decades of temperature records in our county from the National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Association (which is totally free and fascinating, I highly recommend it!) from 1930 to present, here are my observations:
a) Our final frost dates have (surprisingly) remained fairly consistent, often occurring just before Memorial Day.
b) Even on years when final frost is weeks earlier than Memorial Day (like May 1st, 1970, which happens 2-3 times each decade), the night temps generally aren't out of the 40s consistently until around Memorial Day.
For years we’ve been asked to demystify seed starting and here it is: Rise & Shine shares everything you need to start seeds successfully at home in 40 beautiful pages with easy-to-follow instructions and insightful tips for the novice and experienced grower alike.