Third End of the Candlestick

Virtually everything in the cellar died over winter, despite some light and occasional watering.  Between the aphids and fungus gnats, as well as neglect, they didn’t really have a chance.  When am I ever going to learn to quit trying to get pepper plants to survive the winter? Even the wasabi plants died, once I brought them outside where they were exposed to full sunlight and frost. At least there are a few dozen pepper pods from which I can save seeds.

Regrettably, I have not found a moment of time to devote to propagating garlic since I harvested bulbs last August. They have been patiently waiting for me to act, but cannot wait much longer. Not a day passes without me thinking, “when can I justify the time and effort to get these garlic replanted?”

Neglected Garlic

Somehow I did manage to justify an hour of time to cut down the new growth from that huge Siberian Elm stump on April 18th. It felt good just to get a bit of fresh air and exercise! Though I still cannot manage the time or resources to deal with stump removal.

Yunnat revisited –
Perhaps this variety shares the trait of many commercial varieties in that the fruits need to be treated with ethylene gas to ripen.  I’m reconsidering classifying this as a “long keeper”, since it seems that most of the seeds germinate inside the fruit before it even softens!  Actually, none of them have even softened, except when rotting.  The crunchy flesh of 6-month old tomatoes tasted just fine in burritos – minus the sprouted seeds.  Maybe those are edible as well?  They just don’t look appetizing.  Plus, I’m a bit reluctant to intentionally ingest tomatine – see this brief article for one perspective.

I thoroughly enjoy sharing seeds of so many wonderful varieties with other gardeners and small market growers! Positive feedback and constructive comments are what keep me going and help fuel this passion! Several unanticipated seed trades have now put the total number of tomato varieties in seed inventory at just over 3,000. Life was just so much easier when there were only 1,000!

So far, 226 new varieties of tomato seeds have been added to inventory over the past few months, with dozens more on the way in the next week or so.

I started planting seeds for other gardeners and small market growers on March 6th and completed that part of seedling production on April 23rd. Here is how those numbers break down in terms of numbers of varieties:

Numbers of Varieties of Seeds Planted for Other Growers

Total number of seedlings destined for other gardens is about 6,500 – hopefully all of them will find a good home!

There is very little overlap between those 249 varieties mentioned above and those I am planting for the seed saving project this year.  First cut was 891 “MUST GROW in 2022” varieties.  I am trimming this number down somewhat as I methodically go through every variety of seeds in every box of my tomato seed inventory.  It takes me about 8 hours to go through each of 18 boxes, and 3-4 hours to plant and keep records as I go.

So this 2022 seed-saving project was started on April 20th and will take over 140 hours to complete.  I am only on the letter “G” and have already planted seeds of 345 varieties of tomatoes for seed saving.

 So far, most of this work has been done between 11 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.  My primary bout of sleep has started between 4:00-5:00 a.m. for 11 of the past 14 nights.  The one reasonably normal bedtime was last night, at 10:45 p.m.  I “slept in” until 3:15 a.m., when I awoke with a start and got back to work.  It is nearly impossible for me to sleep for more than 3-4 hours at a stretch (is this “Long COVID” or evidence of character flaws?).  But I need 7-8 hours of sleep, just as most adults do.  I end up getting an additional 1-2 hours of sleep each day via unplanned, unwanted, very inconvenient, compulsory naps.  That is, I fall asleep unintentionally while working. High stress, yes; but I consider it mostly eustress, since I have convinced myself that what I am doing is of significant value – “value” in the non-money sense. Don’t get me started…

I cannot seem to find a third end to that proverbial candlestick that I can burn.  And it’s just going to get worse, much worse, in May, as I prepare for and make deliveries all around the state of Utah. See Delectation of Tomatoes Seedling Tab for details.

“Why don’t you just hire an assistant or two”, more than one person has suggested. Find me someone who will work hard, fast, safely, effectively, and free of significant errors (mix-ups are a HUGE problem in this line of work…) for 40 hours per week for compensation of $1.50 per hour and I will gladly hire them! I’ve done the math, over and over. This sort of “business” just cannot sustain paying any more than that. For example, I would need to charge $48 per seed packet in order to earn (after business expenses) what the average American makes per hour. As if anybody would pay that rate for seeds!

It has been enjoyable to finally get outside and do a bit of gardening work, specifically setting up the low tunnel for 2022, completed on April 29th, two weeks behind schedule:

In addition to really struggling to find the time and energy to pot up seedlings, the weather has not been cooperative until today. Last night, the forecast low and “official” low was 34° F. But my remote thermometer recorded 22.6°!

And a small bucket of water had a 1/4″ layer of ice on its surface. Soil thermometer, predictably, measured the water below the ice at 32°. Clear evidence that “34°” was meaningless (maybe I am learning at least one life lesson!). Actually, between 3:30 and 7:00 a.m., I watched the temperature fluctuate quite a bit between 23 and 34°.

Temperatures are forecast to be more moderate over the next few days, but there still frost in the forecast – just when others are expecting me to deliver seedlings.

Once the low tunnel was set up, temperatures reached into the mid-80’s – just right for seedlings!

Now that shelf space and floor space are being made available, potting up from plug trays to 3-1/2″ pots can begin in ernest.

Can I manage to pot up 5,500 more seedlings and get them all hardened off in 4 days? Not likely, but I can try. Getting ZERO sleep for the next 3 weeks would help a lot, if my body and brain could handle that. They can’t. Especially if I expect to be able to drive about 1,200 miles safely while making deliveries.

Ideal timing for potting up seedlings from plug trays is 14-21 days from seed sowing. The oldest of these tomato seedlings were planted 42 days ago and are starting to suffer because of my “benign neglect”. Call it insanity — or stupidity, if you prefer. I keep hoping things will get better; that I can work faster, get less sleep, or afford to hire some help.

Here are trays of pots ready to receive some stressed-out seedlings – enough to easily keep me occupied until 5 a.m.

Ending on a more upbeat note – first blossom of the season is opening on an Aunt Molly’s ground cherry – before even potting up!

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Update, May 2nd, 2:55 a.m. –

When I finished up outdoors at dusk last night, the forecast low was for 42°F. I rather hoped that I could get 8-10° buffer with the combination of a portable radiant heater and box fan, both set at lowest settings. But, by 1:15 a.m., the outdoor temperature was down to 33.6° and inside the low tunnel it was 36°, with the forecast showing another 4° drop before sunrise. With significant wind and a moonless, cloudless night, my mind registers (based upon experience – some of it resulting from significant losses to freezing temperatures): “HIGH DANGER OF FROST”.

So, I just returned from disentangling my large tarp (see blog post from September, 2020) from weeds and placing it as a fourth layer over the low tunnel. I also turned the heater up to maximum. At the moment, the temperature inside the tunnel is 45.3° and still rising, while the open-air temperature 10 feet away is 32.7 and falling.

I am satisfied with a 12° temperature gain with this adjusted setup. I will need at least that much buffer, as the forecast for about 48 hours from now is 30° – which, it seems, should be translated to 20° to reflect reality.

There is seldom concordance between what I want and what reality gives; but waxing philosophical is probably not appropriate given the circumstances and middle-of-the-candle hour…

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