- (Public Value) UCANR: Safeguarding abundant and healthy food for all Californians
- Author: Carmen Kappos
Have you ever found an old seed packet and wondered what to do with it? Seeds deteriorate as they age which can give variable results. Fortunately there is a simple way to see if seeds will germinate. You can use this easy rolled paper towel test to check for seed viability.
This seed viability test takes seven to ten days and will give you an idea of how well your seeds will germinate.
- Lay a moistened paper towel flat
- Place a row of ten seeds starting along one edge
- Roll up loosely
- Carefully place the damp towel in a plastic bag and seal it to hold in the moisture
- Place the bag in a warm spot (On top of the refrigerator is ideal as that area is generally a consistent seventy degrees)
- Check every couple of days: if the paper towel is drying out, gently mist with water, but as the bag is sealed, it should not dry out
- At the end of seven days, unroll the towel and see how many seeds have sprouted. (Some seed will need ten days to two weeks to germinate. The seed packet may have this information.)
The recommendations are that if less than seven out of ten (seventy percent) seeds have sprouted, then you are probably better off getting fresh seed. If seventy to ninety percent have sprouted, it should be fine to plant but sow the seed a little thicker than you normally would. If all the seeds have sprouted, plant as you normally would.
If it is time to plant, you can use the sprouted seeds if handled carefully. Often the roots have grown into the damp towel. If so, cut the paper towel between seeds and plant with a little bit of toweling. That way, the roots and growing tip will not be damaged. If not grown into the towel, handle carefully by the top so not to damage the root, planting right away so that it does not dry out.
I was surprised to see that five- and seven-year-old flower seeds that I tested had germinated. Keep in mind that fresh seed usually gives the best results. Vegetable seeds should be no more than two to three years old with some exceptions. Onion, chive, parsnip and parsley seeds are recommended to be stored for only one year.
- Author: Ariel Bohr
This year especially, many people have been eager to get an early start on their vegetable gardens. I felt the urge to get a head start on my garden as well, but unfortunately there are many variables outside of my control that determine when I can safely put plants in the ground without fear of them being killed by a spring frost. What to do when I'm ready to begin — my starts are an appropriate size, but I'm not “in the clear” with the weather?
This year I decided to try using Wall-O-Waters, which at first glance resemble oversize freezer packs. In truth they are relatively simple structures about 18" tall and 17" in diameter which are designed to protect plants from the elements by forming a barrier to the wind and cold and extend the growing season by creating a warmer environment. While there are many materials that can be used to create a barrier between plants and the elements, the thing that makes Wall-O-Waters so special is the water.
Water is poured into vertical cells to give the Wall-o-Water its shape as well as its efficacy. Throughout the course of the day, sunlight heats up the water in the cells and warms the plants. Water retains heat very effectively and this warmth protects plants from frost damage. Counterintuitively, as water freezes it releases heat, which further protects the tender plants inside. Wall-O-Waters are most commonly used in conjunction with tomato plants because of their sensitivity to cold. This is the crop I will be using them on as well.
I found that the easiest way to set up Wall-o-Waters was with a 5-gallon bucket and a partner. The Wall-o-Water website recommends setting them up 6-8 weeks prior to the last frost date in order to warm up the soil to create an optimal environment for root growth. Unfortunately I did not see this advice until perusing their website while writing this post! Rather than setting up the Wall-O-Waters in advance, I set them up just after planting my tomato starts. To do so, I put the bucket face down so that it was protecting the plant. I then slid the empty Wall-o-Water onto and around the bucket, making sure that the “open” sides of the cells were facing up. As my partner held open each individual cell, I used a watering can with a narrow spout to fill each pocket. If you're setting up without a bucket, it's a good idea to remember to create counter balance during this process so that the whole thing does not tip over. Once I was done, I carefully removed the bucket. If the Wall-o-Waters act as advertised, they should protect my plant in temperatures as low as 12℉ and give the plants an extra dose of warmth on chilly nights.
Considering the recent heat wave, this whole exercise may have been unnecessary, but extra precautions are never a bad idea in the fickle Eastern Sierra.
Here's hoping this yields some early tomatoes! Updates to follow.
- Author: Dustin Blakey
If you are just planting a garden for the first time you will, no doubt, want to grow tomatoes.
Once you tell someone you're putting in a new garden you likely will receive helpful(?) advice from friends and family.
No matter where you live there are a lot of funny rules for planting tomatoes. Some of this handed down wisdom is legitimate, but others are clearly just made up and passed along because they are memorable. When I first moved here, several people told me never to plant tomatoes before White Mountain Peak is snow-free. That's clearly too late most years, but it is easy to remember.
The thing about gardening is that every year is different. That's part of the challenge! For this year, at least if you live below 5,000 feet, you should already have planted your tomatoes. As I write this, it's April 27. If you haven't planted your tomatoes, get them in soon. It's probably about time in Coleville and Walker, too.
A good tomato for new gardeners is 'Juliet.' It's a grape tomato, but large for that type. It is good in salads and dehydrates wonderfully. Unlike some fussy slicing tomatoes, it will continue to set fruit all summer. A larger tomato that is tough to screw up is 'Celebrity.' I've had good luck with it in containers. It hasn't been a huge producer for me, but it has been very consistent all the way until fall. Many gardeners in our area raise 'Early Girl' without problems. All of these varieties are (usually) easy to find in our area. If you can't find these, just plant what you can get.
For almost everything in the garden, you should plant transplants level with the soil in the pot you get it in. That's true with tomatoes, too, but there is an exception: tall tomato transplants can be planted deeply if you pinch off the lower leaves. They will grow some new roots on their stems and survive the deep planting. You can do this to shorten the plants so your trellis has more room to support the vines. They also do fine if you don't plant deep.
Make sure that your plants are well-watered before transplanting, and them water them afterward.
For the first week or so after transplant, you may need to water more frequently than you expect since the roots are confined to a small area. Check on the plants a couple times during the day for the first week. You will see what they need.
Your plants will probably need some fertilizer. I use 1 tablespoon of water soluble fertilizer in 1 gallon of water, and give each plant 1 cup of that solution within a few days of transplanting. You can use 1/3 cup of fish emulsion instead if you prefer, but it's stinky and of interest to skunks and raccoons. Repeat this in about a month or so.
Tomatoes are vines and require support. It is not a good idea to let them sprawl all over the ground. There are as many ways to stake tomatoes as there are gardeners. Anything that holds them up is fine, even a bamboo stake with the plants gently tied on works OK.
I use modified cheap tomato cages from the hardware store. Straight from the store, these things have a terrible design with the wide part at the top, so I cut off the 3 "legs" and bend them into hooks like tent stakes. I then turn the cage upside-down (small end up) and pin them to the soil with my newly made hooks. These are very secure, and hold plants well. The 2 pictures on this post show how it's done.
Whatever system you decide use is fine. Just be sure that it is secure.
The rest of the work of raising tomatoes is keeping the weeds and pests under control. If you check your plants daily, it's not that big a deal. Most tomato pests can be blasted off with water or plucked off by hand.
Hopefully you'll have a successful crop this year!
If you have questions contact the Master Gardener help line at firstname.lastname@example.org .
- Author: Dustin Blakey
Sure our area is hot and dry for much of the year, but the silver lining is that we have very few fungal diseases to deal with in the garden. I swear in Arkansas you cold hear fungi growing on tomatoes from the heat and humidity. (And on roses, too, but that's a different topic.)
While fungi aren't a big deal here, we do have some serious issues with three viral diseases on tomatoes:
- Tobacco Mosiac Virus
- Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus
- Beet Curly Top Virus
Since planting season is here, I thought this would be a great time to cover these diseases. I recorded a lecture on the topic. It's a slide show, but it has useful information for you tomato lovers.
Although these diseases happen throughout California, this is aimed at gardeners in Inyo and Mono counties and reflects what we see in our area. The symptoms and prominence of each may be different elsewhere.
Hopefully you find it useful. (It's posted on our Facebook page as well.)
For more information on tomato diseases, check out this page at UC IPM
- Author: Susan Flaherty
Teepee Rolls are a new movement to make growing and cooking with mushrooms a fun experience!
I brought one home from Wisconsin's PBS Garden Expo this winter just to see if it really worked. I thought it might be a great project to do with kids in the future. (At the time toilet paper was easily accessible.)
Teepee rolls are made by soaking a roll of fresh, undyed, scent-free toilet paper in water and stuffing the center of the roll with mushroom spawn. The inoculated roll is then placed in a plastic bag and allowed to grow, thus beginning the conversion of paper to energy. Fresh air, combined with humidity is all that is needed to produce a tasty crop.
The roll is placed in an area that receives natural or artificial light, and maintained at temperature of 60-80°F. After a bit of experimenting I found that keeping the bag half closed and misting the inside twice a day to maintain humidity, worked best. The climate in the Owens Valley is dry and not known for growing mushrooms!
The mushroom babies (or pins) start as a cluster of what really does look like sewing pins, hence the name. As they grow, watch they don't get too dry. You will know if they take on a leathery and pale appearance or fail to develop fully.
Harvest the mushrooms at their base when the caps are the size of a 50 cent piece. Generally the stems of oyster mushrooms are not included in food preparation. I added my mushrooms to a marinara sauce and they were delicious.
After harvest, it is possible to initiate another flush or two, from the same teepee roll. This was a fun experiment and generated a lot of conversation.
You may order your supplies and/or the mushroom spawn from fieldforest.net or call (800)792-6220.* Unfortunately, you must provide the toilet paper.
*No endorsement implied. Link provided as a courtesy.