I can now proclaim that - finally! - the 2017 garden is planted!

Today saw the placement of the last two tomatoes on my grow list for the year. The first plants went in on May 1. So the span of planting was 24 days....now that's what I call gradual! It is also atypical for me, but a testament to a pretty busy, complicated spring - the intersection of travel associated with speaking engagements, the annual seedling sales, and planting of the garden. 

Garden - view from the street side

Garden - view from the street side

This year's garden is a departure from recent gardens in two significant parameters - less plants, and more spacing. It is also loaded with mini-projects and mysteries. Upcoming blogs will discuss each of the projects and all of the progress, delights, and frustrations along the way (all inevitable). 

To keep this particular blog short, let's cut to the chase....the statistics.

I am growing a total of 131 plants in containers of various sizes, with a few straw bales thrown in. Of that total, 91 are tomato plants, 32 are peppers, and 8 are eggplant.

The garden is in my driveway (of course!), and contains 6 straw bales and 3 special self watering planters sent to me for trial by Gardener Supply Company. Along with the plants along the driveway edge, the layout consists of 9 rows of plants with adequate space for easy observing and watering, and sun and air exposure.

Most of the plants are in 5 gallon plastic grow bags; a few are in one gallon plastic pots, and some special tomatoes being grown for maximum yield are in 10 gallon plastic pots.

Among the mini projects are:  Eggplant - further work on the dehybridization of Orient Express (testing the three main named varieties), and further work on the variety I named Mardi Gras.  Peppers - further work on the dehybridization of Islander (testing the four named varieties), as well as my named ornamental hot peppers Gemstone and Bouquet, and some super hot peppers from saved seed.

The tomato mini-projects are: a small number of newly obtained family heirlooms, a selection of our favorite eating varieties, a grow out of the most recently released dwarf varieties from our project, and lots of early generation work on dwarf offspring of my newer, wilder crosses, including chartreuse, yellow, carrot like and variegated foliage - as well as paste and cherry sized offspring.

There will be so much to show and discuss - I can't wait!

Garden from behind

Garden from behind

I'm just loving all of this right now....

Transplanting?  Check (I transplanted a few dozen Cherokee Purples just today)

Planting?  Check (just ask my lower back!  Update on what I've planted and what remains, when you read on below....)

Driveway garden beginning to take shape

Driveway garden beginning to take shape


Driveway tomato conversations with seedling customers?  Check! (Just a few weeks remain - and I am so grateful to my annual tomato friends)

Events?  Big Check! (lots of week end travel, lots of wonderful hosting by some superbly nice people, lots of engaged, interesting, energizing audiences).

Writing?  whoops (too much of all of the above - leading to spaces between blog and overdue work on the next book)

It really doesn't get any better for avid gardeners. Spring is simply where it's at. For those who like to flit about from one activity to another, it's perfect. So much happens each day - whether watching seeds germinate, planting seedlings, or monitoring them for progress and growth. The weather is often perfect, the bird songs plentiful.

Here are the news items....

I've got a few more speaking engagements, including White Flower Farm in Connecticut on Friday, and the NC Museum of History on Saturday. After that comes the Mother Earth News Fair in Burlington Vermont. And after that comes a bit of a sigh - it's been a delightfully busy winter and spring. I am now turning my efforts to setting up events for 2018.

The 2017 seedling sales are drawing to a close, and will culminate in PlantaPalooza in Durham on May 27, when I hope to find homes for what remains. Stay tuned for details. This was a smaller effort than previous springs, and I expect the decline to continue each year as I work to free myself up to do more traveling about with Sue. Thanks to all who support my tiny enterprise!

About 75% of the garden is planted - I am listing the varieties on my Facebook Book Page in a series of posts. In the next blog, I will begin to discuss the varieties and reasons behind growing them. Though I will be growing less than half of a typical summer, my strategy is to maximize yield and performance. As always, the plants represent numerous projects, including taking the Dwarf Tomato Breeding project into some unusual directions.

Now, if I can only avoid trying to do too much at one time and putting my lower back out of commission for a few days!

Indeterminate tomatoes in 10 gallon containers

Indeterminate tomatoes in 10 gallon containers

The first seedlings are planted - the 2017 garden is now underway

The days are really flying by now, as I juggle speaking engagements, social networking/blogging/email questions, seedling sales and getting our own garden underway. We are off to Washington DC tomorrow, then on to Baltimore - for two speaking engagements (Friday at the US Botanical Garden, and Saturday for the Horticultural Society of Maryland). I really wanted to get a few things planted.....and I did!

As I've said previously, this is going to be a much smaller garden than usual (meaning less containers/straw bales). Lack of time and a varied approach (less plants, more spacing, more attention on each plant - particularly in better pruning and topping) really left me no options but for something less complex and ambitious.

I am testing the Gardeners Supply Company Gardener's Revolution Classic Tomato Garden Kit, and have two of them planted so far (on May 1 - one with 2 dwarf tomatoes....Dwarf Sweet Sue and Dwarf Caitydid - and one with a sweet pepper (Fire Opal) and eggplant (Skinny Twilight)...the third will hold two Determinate tomatoes, which aren't quite ready for planting yet).

Today I dug into the Supersod Big Yellow Cube of planting mix (their Soil 3 product), added a bit of composted cow manure and filled 11 large containers for indeterminate tomatoes. I also began treating half a dozen straw bales - I am going to plant indeterminate tomatoes in them as well.

Once I get back, the rest of the planting will resume Monday - 5 gallon grow bags and pots with peppers, eggplants and dwarf tomatoes. There will be 60 varieties (maybe a few more, depending upon spacing and room) in all. I will blog my complete grow list next week.

I will have seedlings until the last week of May, so if you've not emailed me for a list, or scheduled a drop by; this is THE time!

This is one of those memorable moments - my appearance on the gardening show Growing a Greener World

I've known it was coming for nearly a year. My growing friendship with Joe Lamp'l started with a chance meeting in 2015 at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show. We really got to know each other a bit at the Seed Savers Exchange Campout in July. A few podcasts followed, then several filming trips in my garden (which of course means our driveway). 

Finally - Joe and I had chats recently indicating it was time - the segment was complete, and ready to air on PBS stations around the country on the morning of Saturday April 29. Joe sent me the link on Friday night; Sue and I watched it - and we are so pleased with the outcome; superb camera work by Carl, such kind and thoughtful editing and handling by Joe and his staff.  It is something that will create an indelible, positive memory for me.

The episode can be watched here.

....the blur that is my April

Though April has been a very busy month, I've not had much time to pause, reflect, blog (and rest!). This is not a complaint - it is actually a joy. Somehow, in parallel, I've had the privilege of participating in some thoroughly enjoyable events at some amazing venues.....had a really successful and interesting seed starting and transplanting experience.....met many old and some new friends in seedling transactions in my driveway. What I've yet to do is plant my own garden - but that starts today. Needless to say, work on my third book - focusing on our Dwarf Tomato Breeding project - is on the back burner. 

April has been workshops at the Well Fed Community Garden in Raleigh, Huntsville Botanical Garden, Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, and Moore Farms Botanical Garden, and this coming Saturday, at Atlantic Gardening Company (two free workshops on tomatoes - at 10 AM and 1 PM). It has been planting and transplanting and planning. It saw the beginning of annual seedling sales from my driveway (which will continue through mid May - email me for a list if you are close by!). I've had an interview or two, gardening phone calls, and asked to be on Mike Nowak's morning gardening radio show out of Chicago - and invited back to Niki Jabbour's radio show in May. It is planning for what lies ahead in May - workshops at the US Botanical Garden in Washington DC, in Baltimore, at White Flower Farm in Connecticut, and at the Raleigh History Museum.


I am just a few minutes from a visit from Joe Lamp'l (Growing a Greener World TV show) for a final chat before the airing of the episode on my tomato efforts - broadcast nationally (this Saturday from what I understand - watch for details on my Facebook page and Twitter feed and an update to this blog). 

April saw the flowering trees, shrubs and bulbs so confused by our unusual weather burst quickly into bloom - we watch our flower gardens daily to see our perennials begin to emerge and bud. The elephant and standard garlic are up and growing well, and we are enjoying the lettuce, chard, beets and arugula planted out last October. We had a wonderful visit from our Texas living daughter Caitlin, and our Seattle girl, Sara, heads home tomorrow. 


It has been an exciting, somewhat breathless, memorable month. Spring is my favorite season, and this has been one of my favorite springs. And so - on to more trips, planning, planting (finally!), delightful reunions with gardening friends. We've had some challenging gardening seasons, and there is no doubt the one to come will bring its own particular challenges.  Let's face them together and have a great year in our gardens.

Blogging from Pittsburgh - my most requested presentation slide - the "favorites" list!

I can't remember such a fun (or busy!) spring - zipping about here and there, my latest event - last evening at the Pittsburgh Botanical Garden - provided once again a wonderful opportunity to be inspired by and learn from a warm and welcoming audience of fellow tomato lovers.

"Who loves tomatoes?"

"Who loves tomatoes?"

I like to vary my presentation so that it fits each location, each audience - working beforehand to understand the particular challenges faced by audience members.  It is really an enjoyable challenge, and builds my own capabilities and understanding of tomato success.

There is one slide that remains pretty constant, however - my current "favorite varieties" list. It therefore seemed a good time to simply post it in this blog - I will expand a bit to offer my reasons why.  OK - here goes...

  • Cherokee Purple - combination of performance, flavor, beauty - and my luck in getting to name it!
  • Lucky Cross (or Little Lucky – both great!) - the only big yellow/red bicolors I enjoy eating because they takes like its mother, Brandywine! This is also the first variety that I collaboratively created, starting from a surprise bee-made cross (Larry Bohs of NC was my partner in crime on these)
  • Cherokee Chocolate - first mutation I found, equal to Cherokee Purple in every way except skin color (this one has yellow skin, Cherokee Purple clear). One of "tomorrow's heirlooms", born in 1995.
  • Cherokee Green - another surprise - a flesh color flip out of Cherokee Chocolate, and so delicious. The amber skin is the ripeness/ready to pick indicator - born in 1997.
  • Lillian’s Yellow Heirloom - One of my top 3 (along with Cherokee Purple and Sun Gold) - spectacular in every way - incomparable flavor.
  • Green Giant - descends from Lillian's Yellow, sent to me by a German gardening friend - spectacular flavor - barely changes color when ripe. 
  • Dester - a new favorite, first sampled in a Seed Savers Exchange tomato tasting a few years ago. Looks like German Johnson, tastes like Brandywine.
  • Sun Gold - the only hybrid on my list, and one of my few "must grow every year" varieties.
  • Brandywine - perhaps the most famous heirloom tomato of all, well known since the mid 1980s - finicky and variable season to season, but when it is great, it is superb - the single greatest large tomato I've eaten is Brandywine (this is the pink potato leaf Brandywine).
  • Sweet Scarlet Dwarf - one of the very best flavored of our 70 new Dwarf Tomato Project releases - beautiful potato leaf plant, medium large scarlet red fruit that awaken your taste buds.
  • Dwarf Sweet Sue - my favorite of all of the dwarfs - so I named it after my wife!  Medium sized, bright yellow, scrumptious.
  • Dwarf Blazing Beauty - another of our dwarfs, this time rich orange juice hued, and unusual in its relatively low sugar level...this is one tart, zippy tomato.

The Dwarf varieties are found in an increasing number of seed catalogs.  Our foundation companies - those that offer the most and that we work with faithfully on releases - are Victory Seeds, Tatiana's TOMATObase, Sample Seed Shop and Heritage Seed Market.  Recently, Restoration Seeds and Fruition Seeds are jumping in big time....and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Sow True Seeds are ramping things up as well.

My other favorite trusted seed sources for great tomato varieties (in addition to those above) are Johnny's Selected Seeds, the Seed Savers Exchange commercial catalog, and the Tomato Growers Supply Company.  There are many great seed companies, but it is the ones noted here with whom I've developed a long time trust and friendship. Lack of a mention does not mean lack of respect or quality.

Cut samples of some of our new dwarf varieties.  Big tomatoes, big flavor, lovely colors on 3-4 foot tall plants!

Cut samples of some of our new dwarf varieties.  Big tomatoes, big flavor, lovely colors on 3-4 foot tall plants!

....so about those seedlings. Lightning quick blog today

Seedlings April 10

It's show time - the tomatoes are ready - the peppers and eggplant very soon. Email me for a list  and also to set up a pick up time - all details are on a Word doc I will send to you. My dates are spotty so we will have to look ahead over the next month to agree the times.

A few things about communications - email is far preferable for me.  I only answer the phone if it is someone I know and a call is expected - again, use email.  Texts are OK if I know who you are - I am getting some pics attached to phone numbers that I don't have in my contact list - so they are mysteries! Facebook messenger and Twitter messenger are scanned intermittently but not regularly.  So - yup - email!  nctomatoman@gmail.com

Looking forward to seeing some of you soon!

As the weather settles, the juggling begins... the bright yellow-green pine pollen blog

Try as I might, my goal of near-daily blogs seems to end up being around two per month. Oh well - better late than never! I will try to make this more to the point and include more pictures. And - yes, there is brightly colored pine pollen everywhere!

Garden and seedling news:  Our yard is in its "blooming arboretum" phase - cherry, forsythia, daffodils, some perennials (hellebore, celendine polly, Jacob's Ladder, oxalis), spirea, red bud and AZALEAS!). It is going to go fast - but it brings Sue and I such joy to look out just about any window, or sit on the deck. What an amazing and inspiring time of year this is.

I am transplanting away - those who are interested in seedlings should drop an email to me at nctomatoman@gmail.com - mid April to mid May is going to be prime time.

Progress - as of March 28.  Labeling is underway

Progress - as of March 28.  Labeling is underway

Events news: Sue and I just returned from a memorable trip to Norfolk Virginia, at which I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with Peggy Cornett, Curator of Plants at Monticello. We were wonderfully hosted by members of the Hampton Road Master Gardeners. Many new tomato friends were made.

Up next - a workshop at the Well Fed Garden in Raleigh, followed quickly by a trip to Huntsville, Alabama to participate in the annual Spring Plant Sale at the botanical garden. I will be there all day Thursday and Friday taking questions and rubbing shoulders with garden visitors, then presenting on Saturday. After that, it is Pittsburgh - then Moore Farm in South Carolina, with much more to follow. All information can be found here on my events page.

Sponsorship: I feel so fortunate to be the recipient of donations of packets of wonderful varieties of tomatoes from Seed Savers Exchange and Victory Seeds (many new dwarf varieties!), as well as some dwarf varieties I will be packaging myself and bringing to events from Fruition Seeds , Heritage Seed Market and Sample Seed Shop. It is my goal that everyone who attends my workshops and lectures leaves with a packet of seeds.  Thanks to Mike, Tom, Petra, Steve and Remy, this is now a reality.

My own garden: I am just not sure yet! Garlic planted last fall is thriving, and we are eating salads from pot-grown lettuce and arugula also planted at that time. There will be some straw bales, some containers, and I am excited to have the opportunity to test out a new container growing system from Gardeners Supply Company - I will be documenting my experience here, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

Happily growing garlic

Happily growing garlic

One thing is certain - the garden will be smaller, more focused - a few of our favorite indeterminate tomatoes, some dwarf tomato project work, and a few eggplants and peppers. I just won't have the time that I typically have - and at some point, vacation will beckon!

Long range forecasts never work! On the cusp of transplanting....and a bit about my weekend in Asheville NC.

Perhaps it was a month ago, lulled into that false sense of security that unexpectedly warm February days create....as well as the sheer excitement that spring brings to gardeners. I jinxed it with a Facebook post saying something like "there are no more frosts in the forecast - this warm weather is going to hold".

Well, was I wrong. From the snow and cold experienced in Asheville, the dusting of white stuff on the kayaks sitting in our back yard (room being made in the garage for soon-to-be transplanted seedlings), the three bone chilling days and nights - it is clear that we had quite a false start. I worry for the fruit growers, because apple, blueberry, strawberry and peach tree blossoms will not do well with the night temperatures we've had. Spring color will now be muted; already our fully resplendent red azalea in our front yard is now a tired brownish color. I guess I will be tempting fate to say that a look ahead that the end of night time frosts may be near....but won't bet on it.

Though the thermometer says mid 40s and there is still a biting breeze, having veggie seedlings hunkered down in the dark garage for too many days makes for unhappy plants. Since the sun is shining brightly, everything is out in the driveway on tables catching the rays. It isn't yet very comfortable in the garage for standing and transplanting, so that will begin tomorrow. Everything looks good, and I suspect the mid April target date for many of the varieties to be ready to be planted or leave home is still on.

Seedlings ready for transplant, back in the sun on March 16

Seedlings ready for transplant, back in the sun on March 16

My quick weekend trip to Asheville NC was great fun. It was an honor to be asked to teach some workshops at the Organic Growers School that took place this past Friday through Sunday. Saturday and Sunday mornings were spent sharing my tomato stories with wonderful audiences, and in the afternoons I discussed straw bale and container gardening. The venue was wonderful, the school staff helpful, the fellow gardeners and teachers all quite wonderful. It was energizing, exciting - and a bit exhausting (I lost my voice....which Sue thinks is just fine, at least for a couple of days!). I want to express my sincere thanks to all of those who attended my workshops, purchased a book, and enlarged my universe of gardening friends. I particularly enjoyed chats with old friends Pam Dawling, Jeannine Davis... and Ira Wallace of one of my favorite seed companies, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, discussing collaborative possibilities with Carol Koury and Chris Smith of the fine company Sow True Seeds, and finally meeting Richard Boylan, an "internet" friend for years.  Last but not least - it was wonderful to be interviewed by Peter Kent and Ashley Epling about Cherokee Purple and my tomato obsession...seems that Cherokee Purple was the variety chosen to be highlighted by the Heritage Food Project of Slow Food Asheville.  What an honor!

My gathering tomato audience, Organic Growers School, Saturday morning March 11, UNC Asheville

My gathering tomato audience, Organic Growers School, Saturday morning March 11, UNC Asheville

This coming Saturday, at 10 AM, I will be bringing my tomato talk to SuperSod in Cary, NC. Sadly, it is too early for tomato seedlings to accompany me, but you will leave with a packet or two of seeds, and can purchase a signed copy of my books. I want to thank Shannon Hathaway for the opportunity, and really look forward to Saturday (a warmer day, according to the forecast!).

The following weekend, Sue and I are heading for Norfolk, Virginia for an event there.  Things will be coming at me fast and furious from this point on. My future speaking schedule has been adjusted - a few things came off, a new event went on - please check it out here.

That's about it for now - it is transplanting time, gardening time, writing time, speaking event time...keep warm (and keep your seedlings warm), all - see you around!

UNC Asheville campus Sunday morning March 12 just as the sun is rising.

Slow down....things are blooming and growing too fast! Things are getting busy...

My last blog was February 19 - there is a picture of seedlings in my office, basking in the sunlight streaming onto them through the window. As I type this, only 12 days has elapsed. Those baby seedlings have been outdoors - completely skipping the grow light-in-the-garage part of the process. They are showing true leaves, in most cases. It is time to transplant....but though they may be ready, I am not!

Seedlings sunning themselves on March 3, hardened off, full sun, showing true leaves.

Seedlings sunning themselves on March 3, hardened off, full sun, showing true leaves.


Quick inventory of what is blooming:  daffodils, azalea, spirea, flowering cherry tree, hellebores, forsythia, quince....all four of our indoor "Christmas" cacti (yeah, right...Christmas!). Confused? The plants are.  And, I suspect, we gardeners are as well.

The trip to Michigan and event at Dow Botanical Garden (the Know and Grow seminar, at which I got to share the stage with Barbara Damrosch and Bill Shores) was wonderful in every way imaginable. I am now getting ready for the avalanche of events to come, with the Organic Growers School at UNC Asheville NC up next. I've booked flights to Pittsburgh, Huntsville, and Hartford. Power Point will be my friend for many evenings to come. Please find details for all of my upcoming events here

A few of my wonderful hosts at Dow

A few of my wonderful hosts at Dow

Audience professing their love of tomatoes just before my morning workshop

Audience professing their love of tomatoes just before my morning workshop

I hope to get a newsletter out in the next week or so, where I will spend a bit more time detailing my upcoming events and progress on my next book, as well as initial plans for my garden this year. Lots and lots of seed packets went into the mail over the last month, as our Dwarf Breeding Project continues.

As for what is next for the seedlings....we are due for a few frosty nights, so in they will come (it is much easier to move 4 flats of seedlings than dozens and dozens of trays of transplants, hence my decision to delay transplanting until next week). I can't wait to separate out some of the dwarf project mysteries, seeking some of the leaf shape or color combinations hoped for.

Three main flats of tomato seedlings getting sun, but out of a stiff, chilly breeze on March 3

Three main flats of tomato seedlings getting sun, but out of a stiff, chilly breeze on March 3