Edible Garden: Starting Tomato, Basil and Eggplant

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

Last week, a packet of seeds from Renee's Garden, my favorite supplier of easy-to-grow, delicious and beautiful garden seeds landed in my post box, my personal signal that spring is on the way.

New seeds and new varieties for my summer garden, thanks to Renee's Garden Some of the new seeds and new varieties I'll plant in my edible garden, thanks to Renee's Garden.

On Saturday evening, I dug a seedling tray out of the stack in the garage, found my organic germinating mix, gathered the seed packets I needed, and carried my supplies inside to the living room.

It's too early and too cold still at night to sow even Renee's enticing-looking new Tuscan baby-leaf kale and cool-season mesclun mixes in my containers on the front deck, but it's just the right time to start tomatoes, oriental eggplant, basil, and sweet alyssum indoors.

I filled each of the tiny pots to the brim with germinating mix (a special fine-grained, nutrient-rich soil mix for starting seeds). Then I worked row by row through the flat, planting one variety per row. I started with 'Aurelia Bolognese' Basil, Renee's new basil introduction from the region around Bologna, Italy.

The flat of 40 pots ready to be filled with soil--seed packets lined up as well. The flat of 40 pots ready to be filled with soil--seed packets lined up as well.

I read the packet for each kind of seed, and then planted one or two seeds in each pot at the required depth, and pressed the seeds firmly into the soil (the mix compacts, which is why I filled the pots full to start).

Next came a row of 'Little Prince' oriental eggplant, a variety that produces small oval fruits with nutty flesh and thin, edible skin. 'Little Prince' is perfect for container edible gardening.

'Little Prince' eggplants with Black Krim (left) and Persimmon (right) tomatoes from my old kitchen garden. (Both tomato varieties are favorites, but too big for my containers.) 'Little Prince' eggplants with Black Krim (left) and Persimmon (right) tomatoes from my old kitchen garden. (Both tomato varieties are favorites, but too big for my containers.)

After the eggplant row came the tomatoes, four varieties. I used to grow seven or eight, but then I used to garden for a whole household. Now it's just me, and while I love eating and giving away tomatoes, I have to restrain myself from growing too many!

First the yellow pear tomatoes, an old favorite and a variety ideal for fresh eating (friends often pick and munch these bite-sized, sweet tomatoes as they pass the stock tank that holds my tomato plants on the way to my front door).

Then a row of a new variety, 'Litt'l Bites' cherry tomato, specially bred for window boxes, hanging baskets and other small containers.

Stupice tomatoes ripening on the vine last summer. Stupice tomatoes ripening on the vine last summer.

I followed that by two rows of reliable favorites, Stupice, an heirloom variety of rounded, rich-flavored salad tomatoes; and 'Pompeii Roma,' a heavy producer of fruits great for sauces and stews, and good keepers that ripen until December inside, providing me with fresh tomatoes into winter.

Yellow pear and Pompeii roma tomatoes ripening inside in November. Yellow pear and Pompeii roma tomatoes ripening inside in November.

Last, I planted a row of 'Summer Peaches' sweet alyssum, a small, spreading annual with early blooming, sweet-smelling flowers. I'll tuck alyssum into the edges of my containers of edibles to attract and feed pollinators and other beneficial insects.

(Addition: Thanks to my friend Louella for pointing out this blog post on planting sweet alyssum with organic lettuce: the flowers' sweet scent and nectar attracts hover flies, whose larvae are voracious aphid predators.)

Hover fly adult on the lettuce in my garden; the larvae are natural aphid control. Hover fly adult on the lettuce in my garden; the larvae are natural aphid control.

I labeled each row so I'd remember what I had planted. I soaked the wicking mat under the pots, which will keep each little pot evenly moist, and carefully sprinkled the dry soil of each pot from above.

Then I set the tray on the heating mat on the shelf in front of my south-facing living room windows (the heating mat warms the soil, encouraging germination).

Watering the pots with their seeds.... Watering the pots with their seeds....

Now I just have to wait for the miracle as tiny green cotyledons, the seed-leaves, appear from each tiny nugget of life in the moist soil. Come on, spring!