The ‘Love Apple’ Needs Love

With the snow so deep, it seems impossible that spring will ever arrive.

Gardeners, however, take things into their own hands and start seedlings in the sunniest window they can find.

Onions, tomatoes, peppers and leeks are just some of the seedlings that are started as early as February.

There is nothing quite like watching a small green shoot poke its way through the soil, especially if there is still lots of snow on the ground.

Now, every gardener has their tricks or tried-and-true methods with seedlings. And no matter how long someone has been gardening, there is always something more that can be learnt. So here are a few of my tricks:

One of the most favourite vegetables to start in February is the tomato. Tomatoes need a longer season than most Canadian gardens can provide and this is especially true here in the Yukon.

By starting them in mid February, we get a jump on the season.

In the Yukon, because of our short winter days, we also need to use full spectrum lights on the seedlings, otherwise the plants will end up being “leggy”, or tall, pale and frail looking.

If tomato plants do become tall and leggy, it is possible to transplant them into a larger container. Bury the stem of the plant up to two thirds into the soil and it will start to sprout roots where there used to be leaves giving the plant a larger area to acquire nutrients.

This also gives the plant the added capacity to deal with drought-like conditions, such as a potted tomato on a very sunny, hot deck.

With a larger root system, it will be able to take up more water in the soil. It is still a good idea, however, not to allow container plants to dry out completely.

Another concern is a fungus that can take hold in the soil and wilt tomato seedlings to nothing, just as the little plants are starting to look like more than a wisp of green. This is called “damping off”.

There are fungicides on the market to prevent this, but I prefer not to use chemicals, so I use a natural fungicide. This particular one is so mild to humans that we even drink it.

It is chamomile tea.

All I do is steep several tea bags in a large teapot until the water is cool to the touch and then use the tea to water the new plants as needed. I haven’t had a problem with seedlings damping off since I started using this method.

Tomatoes originated in South America with the Aztecs. The seed was carried back to Europe by the Spanish conquistadors where it was adopted into several cooking cultures.

The tomato is related to the nightshade family and, as such, it acquired the name “wolf peach” because of the known poisonous nature of the nightshade.

It is also related to the mandrake or “love plant” so it has been known as a “love apple”, which I find very applicable when planting them in February, the month of love.

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