Tomato Seedling Care

thinning tomato seedlings

I planted 20 tomato seedlings in my basement about 2 months ago. The seedlings germinated under my shop lights and are doing well. Sometime in July I’ll be making delicious tomato sandwiches but today I’d like to talk about a few important things when it comes to tomato seedling care.

cutting tomato seedlings
Sorry little guy but you didn’t make the cut

How to Thin Tomato Seedlings

When I plant tomato seeds, I usually put 3-5 seeds in each container. I like to do this in case there’s a few seeds that don’t sprout. Doing this improves the odds of having more tomato plants to put outside. Just double or triple up the seeds counts in each cup. Sometimes you have older seeds from years ago that saved or never got around to planting. Or if you buy from big box stores, who knows if those seeds where in a 100 degree truck going across a dessert or something. You never know if your seeds will germinate.

Even with my 3-5 seedlings per cup of soil, I still had 3 that didn’t sprout anything. Hey it happens. But still that’s a pretty good percentage.

So once the seedlings sprout and start to grow you’re going to want to murder some of them. Survival of the fittest is my motto for thinning tomato seedlings. Keep the healthiest looking plant, growing well, not too spindly, good leaves and then cut the rest with a scissor. You don’t want to pull out the seedlings because that will disturb the roots of the plant that you are keeping. Just cut the extras with a scissor as close as dirt level as you can get and that will do it. The plant is just a baby and doesn’t have the strength to recover from such a drastic pruning.

Its like the vegetable version of Survivor. The tomato plants that don’t make a name for themselves get voted off the island. And on Tomato Survivor the losers are actually killed. Yikes!



How to Fertilize Tomato Seedlings

Another thing that’s important to tomato seedling care is fertilization. When the tomato seedlings have their first true leaves (that’s the second set of leaves that you’ll see) they should be fed. A small dose of liquid fertilizer can be added to your watering can and that should do it.

How to Harden off tomato seedlings

And the last thing to consider with tomato seedling care is hardening off. If you’re growing your seedlings under florescent lights like I am it really isn’t bright enough for the plant to mature to the flowering stage. In fact it’s kind of not enough light. Now you don’t want to take these tiny little plants and plant them outside on a sunny day only to see them wilt and perish. When it’s warm enough to move them outside, you should do so but ease them into the full sun over a week’s worth of time. But them in a shady spot at first which is going to still give them more sun than under regular shop lights. Then move them to spots that get more sun. You should start with a spot that gets some morning sun and afternoon shade and ease them into it.

So these are tips for tomato seedling care. I’ve been starting tomato seedlings at my current house for 17 years this way. If you follow these instructions you should have some success too.

Starting Tomato Seeds Indoors

tomato seedlings indoors

Did you see the news about the blizzard on the East Coast yesterday?  Here in New Jersey we had our biggest snow storm of the year. About a foot of snow with a nice inch of freezing rain on top to make the whole thing a delightful treat to shovel. And now today, the town road guys just came by with a backhoe and cleaned up my road. That means that they pushed a giant mountain of snow onto my front lawn that probably won’t melt until June but that’s okay because today I’m going to blog about gardening.
starting tomato seeds
You see last week I started my tomato seeds indoors. I like to start tomatoes from seed for the vegetable garden every year in the middle of winter. When you start your tomatoes from seeds there are a lot of advantages.

First advantage is that you don’t to wait until the weather is warm. You can do it about 8 weeks or so before the last frost in your area. This way when it’s nice out you have your little plants ready to go in the ground. You won’t waste as much of the growing season.

Plant selection is definitely much better when you start from seeds. Now if you’re going to buy small tomato plants from a big box store or a nursery, you can only choose from what they have.  If you’re looking to try some heirloom tomato that you heard has amazing flavor then you might be out of luck if the stores only carry the basic tomato varieties. Or if someone comes in a buys most of the healthy plants and they’re not going to get new stock at the store for a week or two you’re also out of luck.



Going through a seed catalog in the middle of winter is always fun. I usually sit with a nice cup of coffee and new pad and a sharp pencil and make the decisions that will determine what my vegetable garden is going to look like this year. Planning the garden is an enjoyable way to spend a winter day. Well it’s an enjoyable time until my wife sees my plans and tells me that “you’re not a farmer, you don’t need all that.”

Another benefit is that seeds are much cheaper than plants. Even if you buy an expensive seed packet for $4.95, you’re still getting about 20 seeds. Now that’s bang for the buck. You can’t get 20 plants for anywhere near that price. And you can get seeds for much cheaper than $4.95. Some are even free if you start saving seeds from last years garden or get involved in seed swaps.

Here’s what you’ll need to start tomato seeds indoors. I got some shop lights from a big box store for about $10 each. They’re 4 feet long and hold two fluorescent bulbs. For the light bulbs you should look for the kind that are marked “daylight”. The ones I got are Daylight 6500K. Now you aren’t going to get any plants to grow to the point where they fruit with a fluorescent bulb but they are fine for starting tomato seeds.

Next I get some plastic or paper cups and fill them with moist seed starting soil. I empty the package of soil into a container and add enough water to make mud balls that aren’t dripping all over the place. Too much water is just going to make a big mess. Gently press the damp soil into the cups and then plant the seeds. You should follow the instructions on the seed packet about planting depth. For most tomatoes it’s usually about 1/4” deep.

The most important thing to remember to get good germination is to keep the seeds moist. I take a piece of plastic wrap and cover the top of each cup to keep the moisture in. You can put a rubber band around the top of the cup to hold the plastic wrap on.

Place the cups under the lights in a warm place and in a few days to a week you should have tiny little tomato plants. Tomato seeds like warmth like from a seed starting mat. I put my seeds in the laundry room which is also where the furnace is. It’s nice and warm in there.

tomato seedlings indoorsOnce you see these little plants poke a hole in the plastic. The sealed cup is great for keeping the moisture in for germination but your seedlings need a little air circulation. A day or two after germination, I’ll take the plastic wrap completely off.

Use a liquid fertilizer when the second set of leaves form on your seedlings. And in about 8 weeks I’ll move these tomato plants outside to the vegetable garden.

And there’s even more snow in the forecast, it’s okay because I’m gardening away here indoors. And I have another shop light or two in my garage and may even start some peppers and eggplant next.

DIY Lightbox for Photography

diy lightbox for photography

As I mentioned in my last post, when it comes to photography, I’m on a tight budget. A photographer can spend thousands of dollars on camera gear and accessories and still not have what you need to get a great shot. But I don’t have thousands of dollars and I’m a DIYer. So there are always ways to get around budget limitations. For example, when I want to get a well lit shot of a great looking sandwich or something, I’ll put it in my DIY lightbox. I didn’t buy this lightbox. I just painted the inside of a cabinet with a reflective white paint and put in little brackets to hang some clip on lights. It’s works great.

DIY Lightbox for Photography

 

Recently I built a quick and easy holder for photography backdrops and made a YouTube video about the project. Sometimes I don’t want the edge of the cabinet in the background of a picture. And with one of these rolls of fabric (white or black) I make the edge disappear. This way the focus is on the subject of the picture and not the background.



How I Use My DIY Lightbox

When taking pictures of food, I like to bounce the light off of the back of the lightbox. The result is food with more depth when lit from behind. You won’t get that flat look non-3D look. Then I’ll use another light in front with a piece of parchment paper clipped over it. The parchment paper diffuses the light for a softer look. This front light fills in any shadows. The parchment paper is made for cooking so you don’t have to worry about heat from the light. The best light is always outside in the morning or the evening. But I blog even in the winter so outside isn’t always the most comfortable choice. And for those times, I’m glad I set up this DIY lightbox.

I recently purchased a used Canon EOS-M mirrorless camera and a decent macro lens. The iPhone 6 on the tripod in the picture above will be retired from active blog duty. It took a lot of research but I finally figured out what was the best camera for blogging for me and my budget.

If you have an unused cabinet or even a old cardboard box you can build a DIY lightbox for photography too.

Halloween Poison Bottle

Halloween Poison Bottle

Halloween Poison BottleThe other day I said there were more posts about Halloween decor coming up and I’m actually going to follow through on that statement. In that last post about Candy Corn Bottles, I mentioned that I have a little bit of a bottle fetish. One of my favorite bottles is this jug bottle that a beer called Mississippi Mud comes in. The beer is a Black and Tan variety and it’s really good. So it’s a win win situation for me because I get to drink a decent beer and then I get a great looking empty that I can turn into a Halloween poison bottle.



Mississippi Mud BottleAnd that jug sort of looks like something a pirate would drink out of so I got the idea to make a Poison Bottle for Halloween. This was such a quick and easy decoration to make that I decided that I’d start a new YouTube channel and put this up as my first video.

To make the Halloween Poison Bottle, first you need to spray paint the bottle black. It’s already a dark brown looking bottle but having it completely black is the way to go.
Chalk Marker

One the paint is dry, the next step is to use a white chalk marker and draw a skull on the bottle. If you haven’t used a chalk marker yet, you have to give them a try. They’re like paint markers but they are much neater. And the best part is that if you mess up, you can wash it off and start over.

And even though I used chalk marker to draw the poison skull and cross bones, you do not need to use chalk board paint on the bottle. Just regular spray paint works fine. But keep in mind that flat black will probably come out better looking than glossy black.

So there you have it, one Halloween Poison Bottle. And like I said, here’s my first YouTube video that I made while working on this project. Many more videos to come.



Cabinet Kick Plates

Building Kick Plates

Not every DIY project always has to be huge and game changing. I’m not building sheds or redoing a bathroom every week. Usually I’m doing small one day projects like fixing the things that the kids break or routine house maintenance. Lately I’ve been going around my house and finding small projects to do that tie up loose ends or just generally make day to day living better for us.

Desk Kick Plate
This is how it looked for years with no kick plate.

One thing that has bugged me for years is my desk. About 12 years ago I built my giant desk for my home office. It’s a few 4’x8′ MDF boards glued together and covered with formica and those sit on two small cabinets. I it with the giant desktop surface because back in the early 2000s, I had a monster of a CRT monitor. It was like 25″ or something and it weighed about 70 pounds. People today don’t know how lucky they have it with flat screens. So with this big monitor I needed a big desk.

Now the cabinets are open with no drawers or doors and I put a storage box in each. It looks cool and it was quick and easy to make. I’d just finished the basement and was anxious to start using some of this space for my home office. Quick and easy was the goal with this desk and it worked out. But I never got around to making the kick plates for the cabinets so underneath them was always open. It bothered me because I didn’t paint that spot and I thought it always looked unfinished. Well for 12 years it’s been bugging me so I finally did something about it.

This project only took about an hour or so to finish but gives me great satisfaction because I finally got to check it off my list. I measured and cut and painted and was done. It’s totally something that no one else would notice except me but I’m glad I did it anyway.

Now one thing that was special about this project is that I didn’t secure the kick plates to the cabinet. You see for all of those years I’ve grown used to storing things underneath. So I wanted removable kicks plates. this is done easily because the cabinets rest on carpet. I created an insert that matched the dimensions of the space under the cabinet and with the help of the springy carpet, they lock into place. Well not really lock but they do fit snuggly in there. and even when I pull the storage box out, the kicks plates stay in place.

Desk Kick Plates
Finally done. Should have done this a long time ago.

So you see that not every project has to involve 2x4s or a backhoe or take a lot of time. Sometimes small projects make a big difference.

Toro Electric Leaf Blower

Toro electric leaf blower picture

Toro electric leaf blower picture
Toro Electric Leaf Blower
I’ve decided that I’m going to stop waiting for the free time to work on my dream projects and start blogging about what I’m actually doing. And unless there’s snow on the ground, if it’s the weekend then I’m using my Toro Electric Leaf Blower.

And if I had a nickel for every hour that I’ve used the leaf blower, I’d have a lot of nickels. I’m serious, every weekend and sometimes during the week too, I’m using that damn leaf blower. I’d have a lot more blog posts and cool projects done if I didn’t spend all of my time cleaning up my yard. But it’s probably a good thing too because those cool projects I that I want to do usually involve my margarita machine. 

Now let me explain. I’m not cursed with constantly falling leaves like in some sort of eternal NJ autumn. No, but there’s always something to clean up in my suburban yard. Right now at this time of year the yard is covered with pollen and tree litter. So I break out the leaf blower. We have an oriental beech tree that is huge and makes a huge mess. The tree is a good hundred years old, that’s my uneducated guess but it’s too big to give it a hug. probably take 2 or 3 people to get their arms around it. This thing drops ridiculous amounts of these little stringy puff ball things. I can honestly fill a few garbage cans with all the puffs that fall to ground.

In the burbs, you have to keep a neat front yard or you’re labeled as “that neighbor”. And I’m the only fool in my neighborhood who doesn’t have a landscaping crew do a weekly clean up of my yard. Nope, I’m out there for hours and hours with my crew of me and the Toro Electric Leaf Blower. Why don’t I hire someone?  Hey buy one my cookbooks and tell your friends to buy one too and then maybe it’ll be in the budget.

This post is starting to sound like a griping session about how much of my life I’ve wasted on using the leaf blower. But I guess I can also review my leaf blower while I’m at it. It’s a Toro 51619 Ultra Blower/Vac and it’s works great. It’s one of those that comes with a bag and an extra tube so you can convert it to vacuum/mulching mode. I don’t use the vacuum mode all that often but it does work well. Even at age 48, it’s still a lot quicker for me to bend and pick up the piles of leaves than to use a leaf blower vacuum. Check back in with me when I’m 55 and I’ll probably be raving about the vacuum.

Toro electric leaf blower pictureI know the trend is for everything to be cordless but I don’t mind the electric power cord. I have a couple of hundred feet of extension cords in my garage. I’ve never tried one of those gas powered backpack models but I’m sure they probably smell like gas and get hot and they’re a lot louder. So I stick with my electric model. When I picked it out it said on the box that it blew 225 mph which was faster than the gas model. I’m not sure that believing everything that the marketing department is feeding you is a great way to gauge the power of these things but that’s what I did. It definitely has a lot of power. I can move leaves, sticks, stuff that falls out of the trees and sometimes I even use it to dry my car after I wash it. On a black car, water marks are the enemy and my leaf blower takes care of that.

Oh and those cordless rechargeable battery models probably work great in a small yard with a quick clean up. But let me refer you to the top of this article. I’m using this thing all the time. I even clean out my garage with it after I use my table saw.

Update

Looking at Amazon I see they made a few changes since I bought mine which was about 7 years ago. By the way, it is very reliable since I’ve been using it all the time for the past 7 years. It seems like the new version is red. Mine is black. But they’ve upped the ante and now it can blow 250 mph. Wow, that’s great. The metal impeller blade sounds like a good feature too. Probably works better at mulching now.

So take it from me, if you live in the suburbs and need a leaf blower, even if you hate how much you have to use it, go with the Toro Electric Leaf Blower. You won’t be disappointed.