A number of great questions and discussion have started, both from this blog, emails to the site and on our Google group discussion board (located at http://groups.google.com/group/usefulgardens ). I will try to keep all the ideas, questions and answers posted on the discussion board.
I've been out this week planting sugar pod peas in the raised beds, fingers crossed all the while. We've started lettuce, mesclun mix and spring spinach in flat "trugs" in the greenhouse. These sturdy, plastic containers, about 2'x3' with 8" high sides, are actually the large, flat trays sold in the home improvement stores for mixing cement. We drill holes in the bottom for drainage and they make wonderful, very large planting flats. There are electric heat mats under the mats, bedsheets over for a bit of insulation (not the best, but the clear plastic hoop house is also insulation). Tonight, Feb. 20th, promises to be very, very cold out here in the country. The stars and moon are very clear, so we'll have a lot of radiative heat loss. I'll be checking those weather monitoring sites for comparison with the recording thermometer on our barn!
The tomato gardeners are way ahead of me and discussions on variety choices and starting methods are on the Useful Gardens group page. Gardener Nancy reports "Sungold is certainly a winner in my household. too. Other than Sungold, I have slowly switched over to heirloom varieties, finding the flavor superior. I haven't started my seeds yet either, but plan to this weekend. I have florescent lights set up in my garage. I start the seeds on a heat mat, sowing them thickly in tiny containers. Once germinated, they can handle the cooler temps in the garage, although they will grow slowly until it warms up a bit. After about 3 weeks I transplant them into 6 packs. In early April I start leaving them out outside to harden [bringing them in if we have a cold snap or unusual storms]. I sow seeds over about a four week period, and start putting plants in the ground Mid- April through Mid -May. Varieties that have done well for me include Cherokee Purple, Box Car Willie, Aker's West Virginia and Heidi. "
I always have to grow some heirloom vegetables just for the wonderful names.
One of my new varieties for this year's garden is a tomato - my seeds just arrived for Burpee's new "Sweet Seedless Hybrid Tomato". It's described by the catalog copy poets as being "the perfect balance of flavor and sweetness, meat and gel, solid firmness and juiciness" - while being seedless and disease resistant. As a rule, I'm with Nancy - I like vegetables that I can save seed from, open pollinated and not copyrighted by a corporation. But we have family members with diverticulitis and I'm hoping this variety may save endless picking of seeds from tomatoes.
Incidentally, one of the questions I used to ask my beginning horticulture students was this: "If seedless watermelons have no seeds, where did the Seedless Watermelon seeds in this packet come from?" Hopefully, all of you know the answer. If you haven't pondered it, the clue is hybrid.