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Dealing with winter, thinking of summer

Stay warm inside and plant seeds

Tomato seed packets
Dwarf varieties are among my tomato seed
purchases this year. (Photo: Kathy Morrison)

When it's so cold outdoors this week, it's nice to think of warmer days and summer vegetables.

There's still plenty of time to start seeds for tomatoes and other summer favorites. For a little extra help, check out an online Zoom class this weekend, presented by the Solano County master gardeners.

"Starting Seedlings for Summer, Even When It's Cold Outside" will be hosted by master gardener Alex Russell, 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 26. The Zoom link is here .

Last year I started all my tomatoes in late January and early February. Three weeks later,  several had collapsed from inattention (I had a busy winter!) and I had to start them again -- what a waste of seeds and time. With a trip planned in the middle of the month this year, I decided to delay my seed-starting until after I returned.

The tomatoes include my favorites, Juliet, Big Beef and Lemon Boy, while this year's experiments include some of the new dwarf heirloom tomato varieties developed by the Dwarf Tomato Project and sold on the TomatoFest online store. The link will take you to a detailed description of the project, which started in 2005.  For the seed listings, go here.

The distinction between dwarf tomatoes and compact determinate ones is important: The flavor apparently is better, and "these dwarf types are very distinctive in having a thick central stem, stout compact growth, and dark green, crinkly looking (so-called rugose) foliage." They top out at 3 to 4 feet in height, apparently.

This project has produced 30 varieties of open-source seeds. Many gardeners have limited space for tomatoes, so I'll be interested to see how these grow out in a Sacramento summer. I bought seeds for 4 varieties:

-- Uluru Ochre, 65 days, a 6- to 12-ounce "uniquely colored" orange-black tomato (SF Giants colors!). Indeterminate.

-- Dwarf Hannah's Prize, 75 days, 6- to 12-ounce, red with some light striping.

-- Dwarf Golden Gypsy, 75 days, 8- to 18-ounce, yellow-gold. Indeterminate.

-- Rosella Purple-Dwarf, 78 days, 6- to 12-ounce purple-black (similar to Cherokee Purple). Indeterminate.

Stay tuned this year for progress reports on these varieties.


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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Sept. 25

This week's warm break will revive summer crops such as peppers and tomatoes that may still be trying to produce fruit. Pumpkins and winter squash will add weight rapidly.

Be on the lookout for powdery mildew and other fungal diseases that may be enjoying this combination of warm air and moist soil.

* Late September is ideal for sowing a new lawn or re-seeding bare spots.

* Compost annuals and vegetable crops that have finished producing.

* Cultivate and add compost to the soil to replenish its nutrients for fall and winter vegetables and flowers.

* Plant for fall now. The warm soil will get cool-season veggies and flowers off to a fast start.

* Plant onions, lettuce, peas, radishes, turnips, beets, carrots, bok choy, spinach and potatoes directly into the vegetable beds.

* Transplant lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.

* Sow seeds of California poppies, clarkia and African daisies.

* Transplant cool-weather annuals such as pansies, violas, fairy primroses, calendulas, stocks and snapdragons.

* Divide and replant bulbs, rhizomes and perennials.

* Dig up and divide daylilies as they complete their bloom cycle.

* Divide and transplant peonies that have become overcrowded. Replant with "eyes" about an inch below the soil surface.

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