After a long winter, with the arrival of spring, a gardener's thoughts turn to visions of vine-ripened tomatoes.

Learn about tomatoes and get started with your planting. Today, at 2 p.m. at the Carbon County Environmental Education Center, Master Gardner Diane Giffels will present Tomatoes - From Seed to Table, a workshop on planting, growing, harvesting and preparing fresh homegrown tomatoes.

"The program could be helpful for people who have never grown tomatoes - or people that have," Giffels explained. "I have a PowerPoint presentation which takes you from the very beginning of planting your seeds to caring those seeds, to planting a plant outside, to taking care of your plant outside, to harvesting tomatoes, and preparing some lovely dishes. I will be including recipes as well."

After the presentation, participants are invited to join the hands-on workshop way they will be making starter pots from biodegradable newspaper, selecting and discussing four varieties of seeds, and planting the seeds in moistened seed mixture of seed-starter soil. Participants will also receive for plastic pots which will be used in the next stage - transplanting.

Giffels explained that tomatoes are native from South America, and therefore they enjoy warm, moist and sunny environments. After the workshopped seeds are planted on April 6, "within one week, you should see some germination of the seeds and see something starting to come up," she said. "They need a lot of light but not direct sunlight at this stage - either a sunny windowsill or placed under grow lights.'

"Keep them in light and at 75ª to 85°F for 12 hours a day, making sure that they retain their moisture, but not swimming in water. In three weeks you should see several pairs of leaves come out, the second pair to come out are the true leaves. Those will look like tomato leaves. In three weeks, they should be transplanted to the four four-inch plastic pots that has drainage, filled with sufficient soilless mixture.

"Transplant the tomato plant without removing the newspaper pot," she cautioned. "the more you disturb the roots, the longer it takes the plan to grow. Put it into the bottom of the four-inch pot and fill it with the moistened soil all the way up to the true leaves. If the pot is higher than some of those leaves, you can take off some of those leaves. Tomatoes like to be transplanted - by transplanting, you strengthen the root system."

"By Memorial Day, it's time to transplant outside. About three weeks after planting is a good time to give it some fertilizer. I recommend organic fertilizers such as kelp or fish emulsion." She suggests stripping the bottom leaves and planting in a short trench to encourage root development from the stem, surrounding the stem with a collar at the soil line, and staking or caging the plants.

"Your plants need an inch of water per week," Giffels continued. "The best way to determining that is to place a rain gauge in an open area of your garden. Pick a day of the week, and a week later make sure you have at least one inch of rainfall. If you haven't, then you have to supplement. The best way to do that is with a soaker hose or drip irrigation."

"In 70 to 90 days, depending on the variety, the plant will start producing the tomatoes," Giffels, after concluding her planting discussion and will go on to discuss storage, cooking and canning.

"Tomatoes are delicious food," Giffels concluded. "I love making tomato sauce, salsa, herbed tomato soup, and ketchup."

The event is free and open to the public. There is a charge for materials. Registration is required and limited - call the CCEEC at 570-645-8597. The Center is near Mauch Chunk Lake Park at 151 East White Bear Drive, Summit Hill.