I’ve finally been able to start tomato seeds! The night time temperatures in our garden center have been too cold for the growth of healthy tomato seedlings, but the worst of the very cold weather seems to have passed. The extra heat mats we ordered have arrived so I should have enough to keep the roots warm as the seeds come up. It takes 6-8 weeks for seedlings to mature enough to plant into the garden. We should have our first plants ready by late March. That’s really still too soon to plant tomatoes, but I know there are some who will plant them anyway. In fact, Phil had someone ask him a few days ago if our plants were ready yet. He wanted to get his planted. We all love that first ripe tomato and just can’t wait to taste it!
There are several things to consider before putting tomato plants in the ground. Is all danger of frost past? Yes, you can protect plants with row covers, jugs and cans, but the cold will stunt the plant’s growth. How warm is your soil? This year’s extreme cold means that the soil will be slower to warm up. If you put tomatoes in cold soil, their growth will be stunted. You can help mother nature warm the soil by mixing alfalfa pellets into it about two weeks before you plant the bed. It breaks down quickly and makes your soil into a mini-compost pile. Don’t put plants in with the alfalfa because the heat generated will burn the roots. You can also put down black plastic over the row and remove it when it’s time to plant. You can leave the plastic down, but be sure and add a lot of mulch over the top of it or the heat generated by the plastic will stress the plants during the heat of the summer. Clear plastic just helps the weeds grow bigger and better. As a rule of thumb, we wait until mid-April or later to put our outside tomatoes in the ground. We like the night-time temperatures to be at least 55 for a couple of weeks prior to planting. An occasional dip below that won’t stunt the plants too much, but it’s really better that the temperatures be consistently warm before planting them. Peppers and eggplants require even warmer temperatures to thrive. I generally plant my peppers after I dig my garlic – early to mid-June. I’ve tried planting them earlier, but they usually don’t do very well. Soil moisture is another consideration. Most years we have some pretty heavy rains in late March/early April. Unless your beds are raised, the heavy rains can cause blight – or even kill the plants out-right.
There is lots of good information on-line about tomato growing, especially through Oklahoma State University. Do some research and you will have a bountiful, beautiful crop this year!
The snow that covers HoneyBear Ranch this morning is beautiful. The sun is glistening off of it and it looks like it ought to be warmer than the 18 degrees on our thermometer. It fell softly a couple of days ago, piling up on tree branches, fence rails, and bird feeders. There’s probably a good 6 inches on the ground. It makes our place look like a winter wonderland. The dogs are having a ball running through it, playing tag, rolling in it. They’re like excited children seeing snow for the first time. It’s even beginning to help remove the skunk smell. We’ve felt guilty putting Cora and PJ in the run every night, worrying about them being cold as the temperatures fall to the low teens. They don’t seem to mind at all!
As beautiful as the snow is, I wish it would go away and Spring would come. The older I get, the less I like snow and cold. I grew up in snow country – northern Ohio – where winter lasted for months. I don’t miss it one bit!
It’s time to start tomato seeds in the greenhouse, but the nights are too cold. We’re able to keep the greenhouse above freezing, but just barely. All our plants are being stressed by the night time cold. The long range forecast is hopeful, though, and the ground hog didn’t see his shadow this year. Maybe spring is just around the corner after all.
I keep reminding myself that I’ll wish for this cold come August when it’s 110 outside and the gardens are stressed from the heat. We humans are never happy, are we?!
PJ arrived at HoneyBear Ranch a week ago. We saw him first near the pond, playing with Cora and Jax. Worried about how a strange dog would react to our animals, we tried to chase him off. At first, we were successful. He had a collar on so we assumed he lived nearby and was just passing through.
The next morning, he was sleeping just inside the pasture by the stone fence post that divides the drive to the house from the drive to the barn. Cora and Jax greeted him with enthusiasm; Phil and I, not so much. “We don’t need another dog,” we said to each other. He continued to lay by the post and watch our comings and goings. He was cautious – wouldn’t get too close. By late afternoon though, he decided to lick my outstretched hand. In that moment, a bond was formed and PJ, as we’ve come to call him, had found himself a home.
He is a most unusual dog, especially for his breed. Although he looks like a full-blooded Pit Bull, he doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He’s content to be third in the dog pecking order, exposing his belly to Cora and Jax when they play. He lickes the faces of our Barbado Sheep - and they don’t seem to mind. Even Bonnie didn’t object to his washing baby Miracle’s face. Most of all, though, he just wants to be loved. At night when we watch TV, he puts his front paws and head in my lap, waiting for his ears to be scratched. He follows Phil on his rounds, or lays close by when Phil’s splitting wood. He’s the first to come when we call.
He does have one weakness, though. CATS! We think he wants to play with them, but he has such big feet that he scares them to death. Yesterday he chased poor Dora up a tree. Last night he learned that not all “cats” will run from him. We let the dogs out just before bedtime for one last bathroom trip. We heard Cora barking with great enthusiasm. When Phil openend the door to let them all in, he smelled the very strong oder of SKUNK! Apparently PJ thought that black animal with the white stripe was a cat. He took a direct hit in the face. Phil caught PJ just before he jumped up on the couch and threw him back outside. Cora was sprayed, too. Jax managed to escape. While I sprayed the house with air freshener, Phil took Cora and PJ to the run for the night. Today they will be powedered with Baking Soda. We’ve found that it takes the smell out of a dog’s fur better than anything else. Three applications seem to do the trick.
This morning, when PJ heard Phil calling Jax to come back inside, he broke out of the run. Cora soon followed. He just wanted his ears scratched and to know that he’s loved.
We don’t know why PJ showed up at HoneyBear Ranch. We can’t imagine anyone dumping such a loving dog. But no one has claimed him – except for us. PJ has found himself a home for life.