Tomatomania: Potting Up and Lessons Learned

My indoor tomato-sprouting project has been fun but it’s taken up quite a lot of time and energy! It’s so rewarding seeing those tiny seeds sprout up and take form, but when you start too early and they do so well it means lots of potting-up. They can’t live in those little seed-starter 6-packs forever. This means lots of time, pots, soil and space.

Lacking most of those necessary ingredients, I did manage to shift half of them into individual 4″ containers several weeks ago. They have been growing like weeds in the dining room window, though I made a mistake with those ones in the large plastic container. They appeared healthy and happy, but once I took them out I realized they’d been leaning on each other a bit too much… literally.


For better or worse, seedlings grown indoors aren’t subjected to the same character-building forces of nature as they would be outdoors. There are things you can do to mimic outdoor conditions and grow healthy plants that will eventually survive when transplanted to the garden. One trick is to keep a fan blowing lightly on them. They respond by growing strong stems to withstand the “gentle breeze.” The plants in the container weren’t being forced to hold themselves upright or contend with any wind so once I took them out they were too weak to hold themselves upright.

Sad tomato seedlings grew leggy and weak inside a clear tub

I got the weakest plants potted up, fed and watered. I was feeling pretty down about my floppy ‘maters but we gave them stakes to lean on while they recovered and after a day or two they were upright again. Luckily tomatoes are super resilient!

Some of the plants have started blooming and it’s taking all my strength to pinch off those lovely buds so the plants can focus their energy on growing strong. I’m learning!


Most of the plants are now 16-20″ tall and looking good. They are a little leggy from their extended time indoors, but like I said, tomatoes are super resilient. The trick with leggy tomatoes is to remove all the leaf stems up to the last bunch and bury the plant with just those top leaves showing.

It’s totally counter-intuitive to bury your nice tall plant up to it’s shoulders right? But you know those tiny hairs that grow all along a tomato stem? When buried in soil, each of those hairs will potentially become a root! Planting as much of the tomato stem as you can helps the plant build a massive root base which makes the plant stronger and healthier in the long run.


I love sharing plants so I’ve been offering these up to my gardening neighbors and friends. About half are accounted for and the only downside I can see is that we won’t be able to share tomatoes since we’ll all have the same ones!I delivered the first batch to a friend last night. He is bravely putting them in the garden, potential frost be damned.

I’m only planting a dozen myself and I’m still not sure what I’ll do with the rest. Guess I’ll just keep potting them up and see if they’re worthy of giving away to a community garden group or a school. Maybe I can trade them for someone else’s seedlings, get a head start on cucumbers or something. I’d grow them myself but it’s time to convert the potting table to Caterpillar Corner and get back to rearing butterflies. I’ve seen half a dozen monarchs fluttering through the yard this week, maybe sniffing out my milkweed seedlings??


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El Niño Esta Aquí

It’s a crazy day here in Bloomfield! The long-promised El Niño storm system has finally arrived and it is no joke. Water is pouring from the sky and neighboring meadows have become seasonal ponds…


…the highway is closed and traffic is being diverted through our tiny town with its tiny streets and tight corners…

Valley Ford Rd closed, traffic diverted through Bloomfield

Huge trucks and trailers are flying around tight, flooded corners and not everyone is faring well. We saw smoke coming from behind our barns and went out to find road flares blocking one end of the street and this unlucky tanker blocking the other… Continue reading


The Hugel Bed is Sprouting?

When we moved into our new home the meadow was a mess. There were piles of new and rotting branches everywhere, even old Christmas trees chopped up and laying around. In a “lemons to lemonade” burst of inspiration I decided to turn these branches into hugel beds.

I bundled some up, dragged them to the garden and piled them into my raised beds.

Hugel bed filled with branches

I covered the branches with several inches of leaves, soil and mulch.This was my first experiment with hugel beds and I was really looking forward to the amazing results I’d read about. My hope was that over the next few months this would magically become a bed full of gorgeous soil for planting. Instead, in typical Unfettered Fox fashion, I’ve had a more humorous outcome.

Turns out some of those branches were from the Salix family of trees – better known as pussy willow. And do you know what pussy willow branches do when covered in 6″ inches of moist soil and mulch? Continue reading


Seedling Overload

It’s been a busy couple weeks sowing, transplanting and hardening off seedlings. I’d nearly forgotten how much I enjoy this process! Maybe I enjoy it a little too much. It doesn’t seem likely that I’ll have space for 72 tomato plants unless I devote my entire garden to tomatoes. But if I do that, where will my two dozen cauliflowers go? And the dozens of peppers, artichokes and cabbages that are getting taller by the day?

Whose crazy idea was it to sow so many seeds?? Continue reading


Bird, Bee & Butterfly Buffet

A follow-up to my post Putting the BLOOM Back In Bloomfield,  …

Today I scattered the first seeds into the new pollinator habitat, a.k.a. the Butterfly Buffet. It was very exciting! Well, that’s a stretch, but it was fun. I hadn’t planned to start so soon but days are getting warmer and our risk of frost is over. Some seeds need cold stratification so I figured I’d better get them in the ground asap while they have a chance to catch a chill.

I think the timing was perfect – it’s been lightly raining all afternoon and then we’re due for a handful of sunny days to warm up those moist little seeds. It’s also the week of the New Moon, so success is practically guaranteed!

I mixed together a huge assortment of deer resistant, drought tolerant, native flower seeds and grasses with rose, white and crimson clover. Lupines, yarrow, cornflower, coneflower, poppy, gaillardia, daisy, flax, primrose and more are now scattered along my pollinator path. I raked the ground, scattered the seeds, raked again, then walked over the surface to press the seeds in. Most importantly, I staked netting over the whole area in an effort to keep the chickens and wild birds out.

I believe I will have my work cut out for me as I attempt to help the flowers outgrow the weeds but I’m up to the challenge. I’m also going to put in some small plants to anchor the space – lavender, sage and a few other butterfly favorites – so even if my seeds don’t cover the space with a blanket of flowers there will still be food for my flying friends.

So this is attempt #1 to put the BLOOM back in Bloomfield… we’ll see what happens!

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Starting Seeds, Salve For My Soul

I’ve been feeling a bit untethered since we uprooted ourselves from San Diego and transplanted ourselves here in west Sonoma county. I couldn’t be happier about the move, but the transition into a new life is exhausting. There’s so much to think about, figure out, find, solve, address. Where do I buy chicken feed? Why is there sediment in our water? What size rug do we need? What’s that terrible smell? So much new, so little familiar. My poor brain has no time or energy left for the imagination and creativity that’s so much a part of who I am.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to get myself grounded but I’ve been at a loss as to how to start. Hmmm, hang on, did I just answer my own question a second ago? Uprooted, transplanted, grounded… obviously my subconscious is trying to tell me something. I need to get back in the garden.


I’ve been sifting and sorting and obsessing over seeds for several weeks and have been dying to start planting, but even if I had garden beds ready it’s too early to plant most seeds outside. Too cold, too wet. Luckily for me, as any diehard gardener will tell you, it’s never too early start seeds indoors!*


*Note: this is not true at all. There are historically- and scientifically-based reasons for starting certain seeds at certain times, but the itch to garden is a powerful force and it’s just not worth fighting.

I’ve got a nice variety of heirloom seeds but since my potting area is just a little table in the dining room (thanks honey ;) I don’t have a lot of room for seed trays or grow lights. With this in mind I decided to try something new – starting seeds in paper towels. Yep, it’s true, you can start seeds in paper towels!

It’s a pretty cool trick. I tried it because it looked like a good way to start a lot of seeds in a small amount of space but it’s also proven to be a great way to test germination. Old or new, some seeds don’t sprout. Why waste time watering your seed trays and waiting, watching, hoping that something is going to pop out? Using this method, if it’s going to pop you’ll know, and fast!


If you want to give it a try, just lay your seeds out about an inch apart on one half of a moist paper towel. Fold the towel in half and place it into an air-filled ziplock baggie or a plastic clamshell. The idea here is to create a mini-greenhouse with enough space to allow air to circulate and enough humidity to keep the paper towel slightly moist, but not so wet that the seeds rot.


Put your mini-greenhouse in a sunny window, make sure the towel stays moist, and check daily for sprouts. You will be amazed how fast it happens. See these little guys below?


They were just six days from seed to healthy sprout! For those who Moon Phase garden I’ll note that I started these two days before the full moon, maybe that had something to do with it?? Check it out – the roots grew into and through the paper towel:


Of course this means you need to be careful moving them from the towel to the potting medium. I gently tugged on each sprout and those that came free easily I planted as they were. For the ones that were really embedded I tore the little patch of towel it was attached to and planted the whole thing. The towel will break down and I didn’t traumatize the delicate root.


I just potted up my first experimental sprouts. Soilless growing medium is usually recommended for this technique but since I didn’t have perlite or peat I used a light potting soil. I filled my tray with the soil, watered it thoroughly and drained it, then created an indentation using the head of a screw because, well, it was handy. I carefully placed each little sprout into a hole:


I then covered the whole sprout, leaves and all, gently with soil. After a light misting with water I placed the tray under the grow lights inside. One day later they don’t seem to be suffering from my use of potting soil, in fact they seem quite happy! They’ve straightened themselves out and their leaves have popped right through the soil.


A few days later and they’re doing great! Zoom zoom! I only hope I haven’t missed the chill-factor window for cauliflower. I think it likes cold weather for the beginning of its growth cycle but to be honest I’m not sure. Only one way to find out!


I must say, getting my hands dirty, starting my spring seeds and getting back into a ritual I’m familiar with has made me feel much more… myself. I have dozens of seedlings sprouting and no idea where they will end up but their mere existence motivates me to build new beds, sheet mulch the hell out of the meadow, create an outdoor potting station and, most importantly, get some dirt under my nails. Every. Single. Day.

Thank you, gardening, for helping me establish new roots and thrive here in our new home. I’m so relieved to have you back.

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Getting longer each day

Putting the BLOOM Back in Bloomfield

When we found this property one of my first thoughts was “Butterfly garden!” Not that it had one, but that it desperately needs one. I immediately envisioned a wild, natural habitat for butterflies, bees and birds flowing along the entire southern fence line.

The expansive green meadow is begging for color, the sloping terrain ideal for a meandering path surrounded by native flora and visiting fauna. I see flowers and grasses growing 3′ high swaying gently in the afternoon breeze and a healthy helping of milkweed to attract and support my beloved monarchs. Neighbors walking by will be surrounded by fluttering butterflies and people driving through town will say to themselves, “I see why they call this place Bloomfield!”

View of the to-be wildflower meadow from the big barn, looking east

As it turns out, this property used to be covered with flowers. The previous owners had a floral shop and grew their own supplies right here. We’ve heard stories and seen a few grainy photos and since cutting back the blackberries and clearing dead brush we’ve been surprised to see long lost calla lilies pop up near the barn, statice poking it’s way up across the meadow.


Historically flowers have not been my specialty. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that not long ago I declared to Jon that I had no interest in growing flowers, that if I was going to use all that water and work so hard to build healthy soil it should be used to produce food, not just pretty decorations. Ha! It didn’t take me long to realize that those pretty “decorations” actually were food. They were feeding our bees and butterflies, hoverflies and wasps, hummingbirds and phoebes, all of whom were helping to pollinate my beloved vegetables! The little flying beasties are not only charming and entertaining, they are vital to a healthy and productive vegetable garden.  Continue reading


“12 Weeks in Bloomfield” Sing-Along

I’ve been contemplating our time here in Bloomfield and was thinking “wow, we’ve been here for twelve weeks!” and maybe it’s because it’s Christmas or perhaps I’m still delirious from the move but I was inspired to write a little ditty.

Please feel free to sing along as loudly as possible to the tune of “12 Days of Christmas.” A big thank you to Jon, who helped me tweak and twist to get it just right. And of course to Miney-Roo for providing endless entertainment and inspiration.

Extra points and my undying adoration for anyone who records themselves singing this and posts it for me to enjoy! Ready? Here we go! Continue reading


Miney-Roo, how could you?

I am not a morning person. For me, farm life begins around 10 a.m. Once I’ve had my toast and tea I take my coffee out to the coop and let the girls come out to play. I had no intention of ever keeping a cocky, noisy, doesn’t-know-it’s-only-4 a.m. rooster. And yet there is a rooster in our midst. It seems I’ve been betrayed by my dear, sweet Miney.


People say it’s a good idea to have a strong, healthy rooster to protect the girls from predators. We certainly learned the hard way with the loss of Meanie that our flock is at risk, but I’m not sure Miney would be my first choice as the protector of the flock.

Miney, winner of the prestigious Most Awkward Chicken Award maybe.


Miney, who can’t figure out how to reach the other side of the gate despite the fact it’s not connected to anything.


Miney, who stands on my boot, trips over the water bowl, falls down stairs, and crashes blindly into low-hanging branches. Miney, scared of his own tail feathers (but what lovely tail feathers they are!).


Miney, my spastic little goofball and constant source of quiet entertainment. How could she he do this to me?? Hmmmm???


I’ve been hoping beyond hope that she’s just an extremely handsome hen, but I checked in with the nice folks at and they tell me to give in. At the very least, those pointy feathers spell rooster all the way.


So I guess we have a little roo in our flock, and of course it has to be Miney, my gentle little goofball. I will keep him, of course, and pray that he retains his sweet, quiet manner. Beyond that, we just have to hope our little genetic misfit never figures out how to reproduce!


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A start to the garden, a long way to go…

Here we are, two-months into our move to Bloomfield, and I have to say I’m pleased with our progress. I never imagined that after spending 22 years creating a whole life in another town we could so easily make this shift, but our stuff is unpacked and we’ve started to decorate so I guess we’re here to stay. It’s a really good feeling to know we made the right move and watching this place morph into our home. Getting some art on the walls made all the difference.

PUD HOOD installation
Continue reading