Update – New stuff

Up to date as of 4 June 2011.  Sold outs marked in line, additions immediately below, tomato list at right updated with current inventory.

  • Purple Tomatillo $1
  • Red Rubin Basil $2/4 pack
  • Icebox watermelon $1
  • Cantaloupe $1
  • Petunia Dolcissima Amaretto $1
  • Red Nasturtiums, $2/4 pack
  • Brugmansia (Angels Trumpet) assorted sizes $5-$40
  • elephant ears in gallon pots, assorted, $5


I have the following varieties of peppers, $1 each:

  • Chocolate bell pepper (sweet) Sold Out!
  • Red Cherry (sweet)
  • Giant Aconcagua (huge peppers, sweet)
  • Fooled You (heatless jalepeno) Sold Out!
  • Trinidad Perfume (mild habanero)
  • Habanero (very hot)
  • Bhut Jolokia, Ghost Chile (hottest known pepper)

All of the following are in one gallon pots, $5 each:

Alstroemeria – Pink
Alstroemeria – Purple

Third year from seed, the Alstroemeria are blooming now, and will have additional blooms through the year. They are a tender perennial which will require mulching in a protected spot if you wish to overwinter them in the ground.  Most of these are either pink or purple.  They like sun, but prefer cool roots, so do well with an eastern exposure.  Some people grow them in pots and bring them indoors during winter.

Red Abyssinian Banana (Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’) is an ornamental banana often grown as an annual.  It grows very fast and large, becoming a dramatic, tropical specimen in the landscape.  These were started last year and have a strong root system.  They love water and respond well to compost and fertilizer, but are tolerant of a wide range of conditions.  They also have more limited root systems than other bananas and can be more easily grown in large pots.

Sold Out!

Variegated iris (I. pallida variegata) has striking white-lined leaves and beautiful blue flowers.  The other portion of the leaf changes through the year from soft blue to green.  These divisions are well rooted and many of them are about to bloom.  This variety of iris is very forgiving and can be transplanted any time of year.  I have grown it in both sandy and boggy soil, making it much more versatile than bearded varieties.  It rarely gets taller than 12″ or so.  Very hardy.


The price of growing your own food

For the last several years I have offered tomato plants for $1 each, which is easy to track and covers most of my expenses and overhead.  This year I considered whether to raise the price a bit to give me more slack in the budget, but I think I’m going to leave it at $1.

Understand that I have to pay tax out of this as well, so it’s really the best deal you’ll ever see on tomato plants.  I started this business to fill a need for heirloom plants, under-appreciated varieties, and local knowledge of growing requirements.  Price falls under the hope of making them as accessible as possible to people.  I want people to feel free to try new things and experiment.  I don’t want anything to get in the way of people being able to grow their own food.

I have great plans for this enterprise, dreams of an organization for providing plants and assistance, rather than making money.  I’m exploring organizational options, continued expansion, improved processes, and diversified products.  With your support, there’s a lot more to come.

Tomatoes available April 16th

It is still too early to put out unprotected tomatoes in our area–we had a good freeze just this morning.  But for those brave souls who are willing and able to protect their plants from freeze for a couple of weeks, I will have the following varieties of tomato available, as of Saturday, April 16th:

  • Aunt Ginny’s Purple
  • Beauty King
  • Gardener’s Delight
  • Green Doctors
  • Green Giant
  • Harbinger
  • Kosovo
  • Lucky Cross
  • Opalka
  • Persimmon
  • Pink Berkeley Tie-Dye
  • Sioux
  • Sungold (Hybrid)
  • White Queen

I will post updates as more varieties become available, with the majority being ready at the beginning of May.  Several special order varieties will become available in mid May.

Onion starts now available

It is onion planting time in the Tri Cities and I have onion plants for sale from Dixondale Farms.  They produce great starts, but all of this wet weather is making it challenging for me to keep them in good shape, so I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep them in stock.

They are $2 for a bunch of 30, or $3 for a bunch of 60.  I have lots of the Walla Walla sweets, of course, but I also have a few others that have been recommended to me.

Walla Walla sweet onions in July

Ailsa Craig   Sold Out!

Said to be one of the largest growing varieties available, this is an open pollinated sweet onion.

Copra Sold Out!

Hybrid yellow storage onion.  Not as sweet as a sweet onion, but sweeter than most storage onions.

Mars Sold Out!

Mild flavored hybrid red onion.  This is a classic, but may be discontinued next year (one of the strongest arguments against depending on hybrid varieties of any plant–the company can discontinue seed at any time).

Red Zeppelin   Sold Out!

Hybrid, full flavored red storage onion.

Walla Walla

Large, open pollinated sweet onion.  This one needs no introduction.

Email at onions@midcolumbiagardens.com to request delivery in Richland (through Saturday, April 2nd, only) or to arrange to pick them up in South Richland.  Or, you may call (509) 713-2010 and leave a message.



Spring Garden Day

Today I attended the WSU Benton County Extension Spring Garden Day.  There was a good turn out and I think everyone there came away with new knowledge and a greater appreciation for gardening.

I gave a presentation on tomatoes, which I think went well, though I regret not having been able to get to everyone’s questions.  I covered maybe half the material I had prepared, but given the time we spent in questions I hope it was the half everyone was looking for.  If you have questions about the presentation, or are just looking for more information on growing tomatoes in our area, please feel free to comment below, or write me at tomatoes@midcolumbiagardens.com.  (That would also be the address for tomato plant preorders and questions.)

Thanks to everyone who attended, and the the County Extension for having me as their guest.

2011 Season

I’m now finalizing plans for the 2011 grow out. In addition the varieties available for special order until March 15th, here is the preliminary list of tomatoes that will be available for sale, starting April 15th:

  • Beauty King
  • Black Cherry
  • Bloody Butcher
  • Chadwick Cherry
  • Cherokee Purple
  • Gardener’s Delight
  • Gardener’s Peach
  • Green Giant
  • Ildi
  • Kellogg’s Breakfast
  • Marianna’s Peace
  • Opalka
  • Persimmon
  • Sioux
  • Sungold
  • Tiny Tim
  • White Queen

This list is not complete.  I’m still working on the list of peppers, flowers, and other plants that will be ready at that time.

Tomato Plants are Ready!

All of this warm weather has readied my tomato plants sooner than expected. The last of them should be ready to go by this weekend. With that in mind, these are the varieties that are available, $1 per plant:

  • Kelloggs Breakfast Kelloggs Breakfast Tomatoes

    Large, orange tomato. Meaty, very juicy beefsteak with excellent flavor. Tomatoes can be one to three pounds each, 4-8”, on vigorous indeterminate vines. Larger tomato varieties take longer to start bearing, and then produce large quantities until frost. This is one of my favorites for everything from sandwiches to orange spaghetti sauce.

  • Ildi
    Yellow grape tomato. Early, flavorful, and prolific, this is a good alternative to the famous yellow pear tomato which I have such fond memories of as a child, but which I found bland, mushy, and prone to splitting as an adult.
  • Marianna’s Peace
    Large pink tomato. Dependable producer of one to two pound tomatoes with good, balanced flavor. Potato leaf foliage is less finely cut that typical tomato foliage. One of a class of excellent German pink tomatoes that deserve a spot in your garden.
  • Black Cherry
    Purple cherry tomato. Dark like the Cherokee Purple, in a typical cherry tomato size, with an added fruity zing. Unlike any tomato I’ve tried, and very addictive.
  • Gardener’s PeachGardener's Peach Tomato

    Small fuzzy pale yellow tomato. Known by various “Peach” names, this tomato has a fuzzy feel to it that is hardly noticeable when you actually eat it. These extremely juicy tomatoes are typically a bit larger than a golf ball and are some of my children’s favorites. Very productive throughout the season.

  • Azoychka – Sold Out!
    Medium yellow tomato. Ripens earlier than most, with a unique flavor described variously as mild or citrusy. A good slicer or salad variety.
  • Chadwick Cherry
    Red cherry tomato. Typical to large cherry size on vigorous, productive vines. The tomato isn’t as sweet as many of the common modern cherry tomatoes, but it has a very robust large tomato flavor that’s hard to find in such a small package these days.
  • White Queen
    White medium tomato. Yes, it’s really white, though it develops a yellow blush on the skin which helps determine ripeness. Makes a great pale tomato sauce and contrasts nicely when cut up with other varieties. This variety was selected for it’s stronger flavor relative to other white types.
  • Giant Green
    Ripe Green Tomatoes
    Ripe Green Tomatoes

    Large green tomato. A meaty beefsteak variety which stays green even when ripe. Like White Queen, it develops a yellow, even amber blush, especially on the blossom side, when it is ripe. Excellent flavor, one of my favorites. Also has potato leaf foliage.

  • Opalka
    Long red paste tomato. Looking like an elongated roma, almost pepper shaped, this variety has a stronger flavor than typical paste varieties.
  • Cherokee Purple
    Medium purple tomato. Darker than a typical red tomato, both in the skin and the flesh, this celebrated variety has an added flavor component that is ofter described as smoky or dark. Recommended.
  • Aunt Gertie’s Gold
    Large yellow tomato. One of the best yellow tomatoes available, with full flavor and texture. Potato leaf foliage.
  • Sungold (Hybrid)
    Sungold (Hybrid)
    Sungold (Hybrid)

    Orange cherry tomato. The only hybrid tomato variety I grow, Sungold is very sweet and very flavorful. Consistently a favorite of everyone I share it with.

  • Traveler
    Medium pink tomato. Also known as Arkansas Traveler, this round medium tomato is known for its performance in hot, sunny weather.
  • Sioux
    Medium red tomato. A beautiful round red tomato which continued to produce tomatoes for me through the heat of the summer last year, when all of the other large varieties took a break from setting fruit.
  • Brandywine OTV – Sold Out!
    Large red tomato. A descendant of the famous Brandywine lineage, this tomato is more productive and better suited to the heat than the others. Brandywines are renowned for their flavor.

Plant markers/tags

Laser printed plant marker label
Laser printed plant marker label

It’s a small detail perhaps, but with tomatoes already heading off to be sold, every plant needs a tag, instead of the one tag per flat currently in them.  With ~1170 plants to tag I need something quick and cheap.  Unfortunately handwriting doesn’t cut it for legibility or the amount of information I need to convey on the tag. Ideally I need to have the name, a description (most people have no idea what to expect from an heirloom variety), and a way for people to contact me if they have problems or questions.

I use multicolored plastic plant markers which convey the many colors that the tomatoes will ripen to: red, purple, pink, orange, yellow, white, and even green.  Currently I’m using white labels on this for legibility.  Last year I had success with the Brother TZ laminated labels (1/2″ tape) hooked to a computer for precise control of layout and fonts.  Despite the low resolution and large margin, this works fairly well.  However, it is time consuming to handle all of the little labels which have to be cut apart (by the machine) before the backing is removed (two strips) and then immediately curl when the backing is off.  It is also fairly expensive.

This year I’ve started using polyester laser-printable labels from Online Labels.  These allow me to print beautiful text and graphics, in any color, at high resolutions, and right up to the edge of the label.  They’re also quite a bit cheaper.  So far they’ve held up well to greenhouse conditions and I’ll be monitoring through the year to see how they weather in the greenhouse, in outdoor containers, and in the garden.  Toner should be pretty tough, but it’s smudgeable with enough effort, and there’s no clear protective coating as with the Brother labels.  With tomatoes I have the advantage that they really only need to last until winter, but I’ll be watching them beyond that for use in perennial plants as well, where I need them to last ~2 years.  The adhesive is excellent (make sure you have it where you want it before you press down, because it’s hard to get off) and I doubt the polyester will break down before the plastic of the plant markers themselves.

The downside with any of these labels is the time it takes to peel them off the paper, line them up on the plant marker, and apply.  You do get much faster after doing a few hundred, but the sheet of labels which don’t curl definitely wins out.  I’ve seen 0.5″ address labels (which is what they call this shape) by Avery which have the backing split to make it easy to peel off the labels, and I may go looking for something like that, but I haven’t seen it with the polyester so far.

Finishing the tomato plants

Hardening off tomato plants
Hardening off tomato plants

For the last week I’ve been moving plants out during the day and back into the greenhouse at night.  With a solid forecast of high nighttime temperatures I left 20 flats of tomatoes on the benches outside tonight, likely never to return to the greenhouse unless the weather turns nasty.  Another five will probably be moved out later this week.  Besides the flats that I’ve already sold off, that leaves 40 or so in the greenhouse for the next wave.  Each year I aim to have:

  • An early selection available in mid April for the people who just can’t wait to get them
  • The bulk of the tomatoes ready at the end of April for the last frost date
  • A set of stragglers for those who procrastinate, kill off their first plants, or come back for more.

It looks like I’m on track this year so far.  A warm spring has made it easy to keep things in the greenhouse happy and growing, allowing me to keep the temperatures in my target zones of 45-55F nights and 80-90F days.

Time to get tagging all of the tomatoes, take an updated inventory (I expect a 10% loss from germination to full-size maturity, but I’ve always come out well ahead of that) and start producing signage and explanatory material.  Also, I’m back to obsessive weather watching.

Tomato transplanting

tomato seedlings closeupTomatoes germinate for me in 2-10 days, depending on the temperature and freshness of the seed.  It is imperative that they get under lights immediately after they hatch or the stems will quickly become very long.  I use metal halide lamps with a daylight (blue) spectrum, which lets me cover a large area without needing the plants right up against the lamp, and additionally provides heat.  I’ve had better results moving the seedlings outside from metal halide illumination than from flourescent as well.

I usually wait to transplant until I can see the beginning of the second set of leaves.  This generally happens at four weeks from the time of sowing, but really it varies with the variety of tomato and type of leaves as well.  I can get away with this anywhere from 2-6 weeks, after which the seedlings start to deteriorate.

Tomato TransplantsI flood the trays with water about one hour before transplanting which loosens the soil and makes the seedlings easy to pull out.  They are planted in 1801 deep flats and buried as deep as possible without covering the leaves.  I use Promix BX for this, which has given me the best results of anything I’ve tried.  I can hand transplant about one tray every 5 minutes, which still adds up to 12 hours of work for the 72 flats I did this year.

Currently I don’t fertilize, spray or use any chemicals at all on the tomato starts while they’re in the greenhouse.  The inserts and soil are new and reasonably sterile and I’ve never had issues with tomato fungal infections in the six years I’ve been growing large numbers of seedlings at my present location.  I’ve thought about using an organic fertilizer, but really I don’t know what I would want to gain from it.  My plants are strong, vigorous and sturdy at the time they’re ready for sale.