While winter is a time of renewal, a natural cycle that whispers for stillness and contemplation, I find that I am not one to rest on my laurels. I am already planning ordering new tomato varieties that we will use as trial plants this spring and scheduling seed propagation. There are advantages to starting tomato varieties and other vegetables by seed, such as earlier harvest and the potential to lessen insect infestation by production ahead of pest life cycle such as Leaf-footed Bugs for tomatoes and Squash Vine Borer for zucchini and summer squash. The following are some tips to keep in mind when planning your veggie garden.
Choose varieties wisely, refer to your own success, and ask friends or relatives for winning varieties that are reliable performers for the region. You may decide to choose from the random assortment of seed packets available from large commercial retail outlets. Consult with your local feed store or garden center for bulk seed and local supplies. You can also order online for unusual or specialty varieties that you would like to try out.
Timing for growing is important. You will want to germinate seed of warm season veggies like tomatoes indoors and by mid-January to have them mature and ready for transplanting by early to mid-March. I can tell you from experience not to start seed too early. I experimented with earlier germination of tomato varieties around December 15, 2018 and had to take extra steps to slow down growth as the plants were a little too leggy when transplanted in ground earlier this past spring. Always pay attention to the days of harvest or maturity for listed for each variety, a specific guide to estimate seasonal planting.
Soil warmth is essential and pay attention to soil and ambient growing temperature. The optimum temps that varieties like tomatoes and peppers will germinate is up to 85-degrees, and a general rule of thumb for most veggies is warming the soil to about 75-degrees until vegetation emerges above the soil surface. Tomatoes will take about five weeks of growth for transplanting. Soil warming mats are reasonably priced and provide consistent heat to keep soil at recommended germination temperature. To simulate a natural cycle and for optimal growth, ambient air temperature should fluctuate by about 10-degrees between 70-degrees day and 60-degrees night.
While vegetable variety planting depth will vary, they will not require light exposure to germinate. Once the seedlings emerge, you will need to provide up to six hours of direct sunlight for growth. Sunlight exposure through a southwestern facing window may still require supplemental lighting to reduce cell elongation and keep the plants from becoming too leggy. Keep the media evenly moist for germination, as well as during root establishment.
We have tomato variety trials for a second year to evaluate regional growth habit and taste. We trialed eight tomato varieties last year: moderate-sized and unusual Striped German and Black Prince, cherry-type Indigo Cherry Drops and Sun Gold, paste-type Paisano and Tiren, and beefsteak-type Cherokee Purple and Delicious. We will bring back one of each preferred in their category and make a decision on newer varieties for the 2020 trial. Both cherry-type tomatoes performed well, and we will bring back Indigo Cherry Drops to compare taste. Paisano held its own, will be brought back and out-performed Tiren. We will trial Striped German as it outperformed Black Prince. Cherokee Purple has failed for three years in a row, and we will bring back variety Delicious. Brazoria County AgriLife Extension Horticulture has vegetable planting and variety guides online and copies in my office to help you make informed decisions for our region. Aggie Horticulture EarthKind program offers valuable directions for germinating seeds and get your started for successful vegetable gardening in the coming year. Links to all of these resources are available online: https://brazoria.agrilife.org/horticulture/.
Brazoria County Master Gardeners will be hosting the 14th annual Citrus and Fruit Tree Sale February 8, 2020 from 8 to 11 am at the Brazoria County Fairgrounds in Angleton. We’ll have over 1000 varieties of citrus and fruit trees available for timely spring planting, and experts on hand to help you make the best choice for our area. Browse to my website for more details and information, and I’ll see you in the garden.