Keeping track of three batches of three varieties of tomato seedlings, some of which are destined for grafting while others will grow uninterruptedly, caused me great angst last year. I am going to try color-coding each batch in addition to labeling.

All these seedlings are the same age within a couple of weeks. They cannot instantly be  told apart. So I will have my colored stickers, and the labels, and the following schedule. I hope I can stick to it.

DAY    BATCH          ACTION

1          A                     Sow Beaufort rootstock (3 trays, 72 cells each)

2          B                      Sow Beaufort rootstock (3 trays, 72 cells each)

3          C                     Sow Beaufort rootstock (3 trays, 72 cells each)

8          A                     Sow Brandywine, Green Zebra, and Pineapple graft scions (3 trays total)

9          B                      Sow Brandywine, Green Zebra, and Pineapple graft scions (3 trays total)

10        C                     Sow Brandywine, Green Zebra, and Pineapple graft scions (3 trays total)

15        A                     Sow Brandywine, Green Zebra, and Pineapple ungrafted (3 trays total)

16        B                      Sow Brandywine, Green Zebra, and Pineapple ungrafted (3 trays total)

17        C                     Sow Brandywine, Green Zebra, and Pineapple ungrafted (3 trays total)

18        A                     Graft scions to rootstocks (3 trays total)

19        B                      Graft scions to rootstocks (3 trays total)

20        C                     Graft scions to rootstocks (3 trays total)

22        A                     Check plants, allow some air exchange, close to maintain humidity

23        A                     Vent ¼ open, mist plants if wilting is visible

23        B                      Check plants, allow some air exchange, close to maintain humidity

24        B                      Vent ¼ open, mist plants if wilting is visible

24        C                     Check plants, allow some air exchange, close to maintain humidity

25        C                     Vent ¼ open, mist plants if wilting is visible

25        A                     Half open vent on plastic cover to permit ventilation

26        B                      Half open vent on plastic cover to permit ventilation

27        C                     Half open vent on plastic cover to permit ventilation

28        A                     Remove cover, monitor carefully, shaded light

29        B                      Remove cover, monitor carefully, shaded light

30        C                     Remove cover, monitor carefully, shaded light

According the The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Saturday February 27th is the day when those who are champing at the bit can plant seeds (indoors, with heat and lights) for broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, peppers, and tomatoes.

I hate to disagree with the Almanac on this, but I think it’s too early for any of those, particularly the peppers and tomatoes. Personally, I intend to wait at least a week until March 6, which happens to be my birthday. If this weather keeps up, I might push it back another week and celebrate my birthday another way.

Like everyone else, I would love to get stuff going. This is admittedly tinged with a shadow of apprehension at entering a time of year that is bizarrely busy and fraught with horrific risks. But I don’t want to be transplanting thousands of tomato seedlings from 72-cell trays to 4-inch pots and then to 5-inch pots. BTDT.

The other thing I need to get is a tonneau cover for the bed of my truck, so I can transport trays of seedlings from my home hoophouse to the farm. Little seedlings in truck beds get wind-whipped, and they hate it.

The tissue in the center of the stem (the xylem, colored blue) conducts water and nutrients from the roots to the top of the plant. The tissue of the outer ring (the phloem, colored green) nourishes the roots with sugars and hormones from the leaves. The middle layer (the cambium, colored brown) allows the stem to increase in diameter and makes new xylem and phloem tissue. All three of these layers must match up when grafting the scion to the rootstock in order to make a successful graft.

This is the scary part of grafting tomatoes. Remember that what we’re handling here is tiny tomato plants with stem diameters about the same as a matchstick.

The illustration and caption are from the University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension site which you can see here.

This is a test. This is only a test. This is a test of the emergency germination system.

For a description of my tomato grafting experiment, click on <About> at the top of the page. If you don’t read that you will be quite sure I am nuts. You may decide that anyway.

OK, so what I am really doing here is both a germination test and a growth test. There are four kinds of tomatoes here, and I planted six seeds of each. (Which any grad student will tell you is too small a sample for a meaningful germination test. I know, I know.) The ones on the left are Beaufort, a rootstock tomato. The other three are heirloom varieties that will get grafted onto the Beauforts. It’s surprising that the poorest germination is Green Zebra, which last year gave me 98% germination.

The other thing I’m doing is figuring out, which is even more important, how fast each variety grows. Successful tomato grafting, which is done when the seedlings get their second set of true leaves, requires stems that are very close to the same diameter. So far it looks as though Beaufort needs to be sown several days — perhaps even a week — earlier than the heirlooms so its stems will match. The seed breeder, De Ruiter (Netherlands) said this might be the case, but I wanted to check it out for myself.

It’ll be interesting to see if Beaufort catches up. It is famous for putting out a huge root system, which might allow it to put on a growth spurt before second true leaf stage. We’ll see.

I love this photo of a Missouri mule a friend sent me. You don’t see that many mules any more, which is a pity. Rusty Leaver used to have a pair of big mules out at the Deep Hollow Ranch, but I’m not sure if they are still there. Anybody remember 20 Mule Team Borax? If you have any information about mules on Long Island I’d like to hear about them. They’re interesting critters.

Without barley there can be no beer. There are many versions of this ancient  rhyme. It is the story of a humble grain, the abuse it suffers during its transformation into beer, and its eventual achievement of power.

John Barleycorn Must Die

There was three men came out of the west,
Their fortunes for to try,
And these three men made a solemn vow,
John Barleycorn should die.
They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in,
Throwed clods upon his head,
And these three man made a solemn vow,
John Barleycorn was dead.

Then they let him lie for a very long time
Till the rain from heaven did fall,
Then little Sir John sprung up his head,
And soon amazed them all.
They let him stand till midsummer
Till he looked both pale and wan,
And little Sir John he growed a long beard
And so became a man.

They hired men with the scythes so sharp
To cut him off at the knee,
They rolled him and tied him by the waist,
And served him most barbarously.
They hired men with the sharp pitchforks
Who pricked him to the heart,
And the loader he served him worse than that,
For he bound him to the cart.

They wheeled him round and round the field
Till they came unto a barn,
And there they made a solemn mow
of poor John Barleycorn.
They hired men with the crab-tree sticks
To cut him skin from bone,
And the miller he served him worse than that,
For he ground him between two stones.

Here’s little Sir John in a nut-brown bowl,
And brandy in a glass;
And little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl
Proved the stronger man at last.
And the huntsman he can’t hunt the fox,
Nor so loudly blow his horn,
And the tinker he can’t mend kettles or pots
Without a little of Barleycorn.

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