To Determine or Not…

Your tomato varieties that is!

Determinate and indeterminate varieties are all over the place, and are you at a loss to choose which one? The warm weather is upon us, and it is, or seems to be, safe for the tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers to go outside for the season.

And so, if you haven’t already, go pick up a tomato plant, or two!

But before you go, a couple of words of wisdom about determinate and indeterminate tomato varieties.

Determinate varieties are also known as bush tomatoes, and typically set all their fruit within a window of about 2 weeks. And then the plant dies. This sounds like a negative, but if you were to want to plant tomatoes for canning purposes, this is a great way to go.

Indeterminate varieties are varieties that produce throughout the season, until frost, and are great for the kitchen garden. The plant will typically keep you in fresh tomatoes for months, and then enough frozen for sauces later on as well. Indeterminate varieties get big. My long standing favorite, Tess’s Land Race, gets to a size of 3-4′ in diameter, and constantly produces. Last year, I didn’t even need to plant seeds! They came up on their own! I get my TLRs from Amishland Seeds in PA.

I hope this helps to explain the mystery of determinate and indeterminate varieties.

Next time… I will give a review on a grafted tomato and a “grow bag”.

Where to Start

So the new year is upon us. The seed catalogs have been beckoning us from the counter. But we have a handful of seed packets sitting in the shed, or in the fridge.

So what seeds are still good?

I’ve got seeds that are labeled for 2010. Are they still good? Do I want to waste possible time in the event that the seeds are now duds? I know that I don’t want to waste time, and I bet you don’t either.

So I’ve decided to perform a germination test.

And here it is, and how you can perform it too:

1. Gather what you’ll need.

  • Paper towels
  • Quart sized zipper plastic storage bags (I use 6 at a time, and reuse the bags, to prevent waste)
  • Permanent magic marker
  • Glass or plastic storage container to wet the paper towels

2. Fold the paper towels so that they’ll fit in the bags, but don’t put them in the bags.

Papertowel IMG_0491 IMG_0492

3. Put a paper towel in the storage container and wet it slightly with water. Think more than damp, but less than soaking.

Unfold the towel and place either 10 or 20 seeds onto the paper towel in an organized pattern. This will help later, I promise!


4. Fold the towel back up and place into a baggie named with the seed, date and quantity of seeds. For instance: “Golden CA Sweet Pepper 2/1 (10)”


5. Now let these baggies sit in a average temperature area for 4-7 days. The temperature in your kitchen would be fine.

When they’ve sat for 4-7 days, open up the baggies and check how many have sprouted. For example, if you have 9 of the 10 sprout, then you’ve got 90%, which is typically above the minimum seed germination rate.

The photos above are from my second set of germ tests, and here is the breakdown of what my first test produced.

  • Cucumber – Packed for 2010 – 90% germ
  • Pole Bean – Packed for 2012 – 50% germ
  • Cucumber – Packed for 2011 – 90% germ
  • Broccoli – Packed for 2012 – 85% germ
  • Tomato – Packed for 2012 – 80% germ
  • Lettuce – Packed for 2012 – 100% germ

Here’s the broccoli with 85% germination:


Based on the above, I would probably pitch the pole bean, but the others, even some being more than 3 years old, are good enough to plant and be done. So doing this quick test would possibly save you a seed order, or if you do need a couple replacements then its easy.

So – I urge you – do your own germination tests! And give me the results in the comments below! And if you’re up to it, let me know how much you’ll save!

Advice Response – Getting Started in the NW

Kayla, formerly from CA asks:

I just purchased my first house (YAHOO) and I would like to plant a fruit and vegetable garden on the property. I grew up in southern California so I’m used to basically everything growing without any issues. What would an ideal “grocery store” garden in the Northwest look like? What would grow well here and what should I shy away from? I’ve already accepted that I will need to grow avocado in a pot inside if I want to do that, but will things like leafy greens continue producing all year or would the weather get to them? I can build a greenhouse if I need to but before I went to that expense I wanted to make sure it was necessary. Also I am a single mom, so part of this garden/grocery store project will be educating my daughter that apples grow on trees not in the apple pie at McDonald’s. I want her to be able to take pride in the work she will do in the garden and learn where her food comes from and what she puts into her body.

Well Hi Kayla, and thanks for visiting the blog. And congrats on the home! Its a big step, and you have a blank canvas from which to work!

A Northwest grocery store garden… Well a great veggie garden here in the Northwest has a great variety! The gardens here have everything from tomatoes and cucumbers, green peppers, and lettuce. We’re also great at kale, spinach, green beans, and carrots. Asparagus is phenomenal as well. Here in the PNW, we also have some great luck with fruits. Apples, raspberries, and grapes, not to mention strawberries, and cherries. Some plants will require a different variety to adapt to the shorter summer, and some have to be chosen for their longer bolt tolerance.

As for avocado, yes, indoors is a must, though I am not sure of their happiness here in the Northwest. I have an avocado plant myself, but its more a little hobby as it grew from the pit. I doubt I’ll ever get it to fruit, but it’s a delight none the less.

Leafy greens grow well throughout the winter, with one caveat. In the winter, I like to grow my leafy greens under a row cover. These covers are a lightweight fabric that gives a couple of degrees of frost protection, allow air and water to pass through. Fabric doesn’t protect against everything though. A couple years back, we had a snowstorm that left the ground covered in about a foot of snow, and after it was all over, most of my lettuce was dead from being crushed under the weight of the snow, but my carrots did great through the entire ordeal.

Depending on the space you have,  I would suggest a 3-in-1 or a 4-in-1 apple tree and the same for a cherry tree. There are a couple of places here in the Puget Sound region that have a great selection of both of these types of trees. Raintree is always great to mention, as is Molbaks. But I’ve had the best luck with selection, affordability and convienence at FlowerWorld. If you decide to go to FlowerWorld, I’d devote an afternoon to it. They have a HUGE selection, and so many plants.

As for the greenhouse… I would hold off. They are great, and everyone wants one, but as you said, they are expensive, and quite a bit of work. If you feel that you’d like to get a start on, or extend, the growing season, think about a cold frame. They’re great, and easy to build. All you need is a little lumber and an old window.

Though I don’t have children (yet), I understand the want to educate your daughter, and I think that its great! I remember some of my best memories growing up were in the garden with my Mom and my Grandmother. I can remember eating tomatoes and beans right off the plants – no washing needed. Thats probably why I still do that today 🙂 Even a small garden to start with will help to instill great values in your daughter. Ask her to help you start the seeds in the springtime, give her the job of remembering to turn on the grow light in the mornings, and turn them off at night. She will experience the plants growing and will be thrilled!

I know that this is a lengthy response, but I hope that it helps to answer some of your questions. Your questions have also sparked a couple of thoughts that I can turn in articles for future installments on the blog.

How the Garden Grew this Year

The garden had a slow start, I though for sure that my beans would be a bust. They actually produced fairly well. I am pretty sure that I haven’t yet found them all.

Beans Keep Growing
The tomatoes (that I planted) were a late bloomer as well. I put them out in late May and they didn’t end up putting on fruit until just a couple of weeks ago. Their fruit started to ripen just a couple of days ago. I was starting to get worried, and then I realized that the plant was a yellow tomato plant!

The other tomatoes that I had this year was a couple of volunteer tomatoes from last year! The variety, Tess’s Land Race, is an amazing tiny flavorful fruit. It puts on abundant fruit throughout the growing season. I’ll probably have tomatoes for a couple more weeks! I found TLR through Amishland Seeds in Pennsylvania. I hadn’t been looking for the variety, though I am very happy to have found it!

About two years ago, I planted some grape vines and earlier this growing season I had noticed these odd growths on the vines. And I just didn’t think anything of it. Later in the summer, those odd growths started to take the shape of bunches of grapes. And they grew. The bunches of grapes are small, and the fruit itself is small, but boy, are they sweet. They are easy to grab as walking by, they are delicious. And I think for next year’s season my dear husband will help me build a trellis like we saw on our recent overseas adventure.

IMG_0402 IMG_0403
The apple tree put on a good fruit set, but because of the lack of water I gave it, it dropped most of it’s fruit prior to harvest. It’s a lesson learned, and I’ve been looking into low flow (pressure) irrigation options that I can use a 5 gallon bucket to water the tree through drip emitters. My other option is one of those water tree rings. Still undecided. Probably will try the tree ring.

How did your garden grow this year? Let us know in the comments!

What’s Growing On?

Well, the garden is up and going, and I wanted to share with you what the garden is doing so far this year!

Asparagus just peeking up

The asparagus is starting to come up – my trusty friend each year.


Chives! I took this one down to nubs just a couple of months ago, and now she is getting big again. Seems I will not need to buy dried chives ever again! I can just cut up a couple of stalks and dehydrate them and they be fresher than what I could find at the grocery. Hmmm… Makes me think!


Here is a portion of the strawberry patch – I’ve planted about 8-10 4″ pots of strawberries here and they should be putting off a decent yield this year. I’ve gotten a handful the last couple of years, but this year will be the year that I may break even!

Next time I’ll share with you the rest of the garden and how its progressing!

Share with us in the comments whats happening in your garden this year!


The Long Awkward Pause

For the last year, I haven’t posted a single thing. 

It has been a long awkward pause. For many reasons, but the reasons don’t matter. 

All that matters is that I am back on this, and will continue throughout the growing year. 

I’ve started my seeds, and given the beds a fresh set of sheets (of compost!) 


Anyone else had a long awkward pause? 

Mid-Winter Checkin & Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2013! It is very cold outside at the moment and we are all bundled inside, except for our onions, lettuce, and spinach of course! There are a couple of late-to-the-party carrots about to come in, but they’ll be just fine until then.

Finishing up 2012 I put some compost on the beds, some got as much as 2″ all around. It was a much needed dose of nutrients, and I’m sure the veggies next year will enjoy the extra dose of vitality. I got a bit of help from my mom-in-law, Karen, on getting the compost into the beds. The one thing we both remarked on was the healthy dose of dung smell. Sorry to my neighbors for that down wind effect. Better now than in mid July and 90° outside!

The onions are doing great, they are looking to take off come spring’s warmer temperatures. Here’s a photo of their current state.

Onions Jan 2013

The spinach is coming along nicely, I need to get out and harvest some before the slugs munch it all away.

I’ve also received my spring 2013 Territorial Seed catalog. Larger than I’ve ever remembered! Very exciting to go through it the first time, even better the second when you start planning out what to plant this coming year! I’ve already earmarked a couple of items for the spring garden, what excitement!

So I know we are all huddled up inside next to the heat source thinking that the garden is so far away, but start thinking of it now and you will be well on your way to a very productive spring garden!

What’s on your mind right now, what are you thinking about with the garden? Let us know in the comments below!