Tuesday, May 13, 2014

My Tomatoes' Journey: Transplanting Outdoors - Part 10

For those of you that didn't start your tomato plants from seed and just wanted to buy plants, here is your time to jump in! I just put my plants in the ground last night, and I'm already feeling a little defeated. My little tomato plants are dwarfish, and I have very little faith that they will survive. So, I have a few  sources of plants: 1) tomato plants I got from a friend who started from seed, 2) plants I bought from the store, and 3) plants I started from seed. In case mine totally die out, then I haven't wasted an entire tomato growing season. 

After your plants reach approximately 6" in height and have a strong, thick stem, you are ready to transplant these babies outside! Before you plant them in the ground,  you need to harden-off, or acclimate, the plants to prevent them from going into shock from the change in environment. 

A few tips that I read I'm going to try this year...
2014 Garden
  • A good gardening rule of thumb is to plant in the evening after the heat of the day. Planting in the morning or afternoon could scorch the plants. 
  • Don't plant all your tomato plants in one big clump or in one bed. It's good to space them throughout your garden to help prevent diseases, pests, and overcrowding. I have a few 4' x 4' beds, so I'm planting two tomato plant per bed and then interspersing peppers plants in the same bed. I am "breaking the rules" and have one large bed with just tomato plants; we'll see how it goes. 
  • Try not to plant the tomatoes in the same place every year to avoid soil-borne diseases. 
  • I mentioned in the Soil Preparation post that it's important to position the tomatoes where they will get a lot of sun, and at the minimum, good morning sunlight. 
After you've acclimated the plants and your soil is prepped, you are ready to plant these little guys outside. The process for transplanting outdoors is similar to the process of transplanting the small seedlings to a larger container indoors. Check out Transplant #1 for more info. 

Using a trowel, dig a 5 - 6" hole in the soil. Depending on how large the plant is will determine how deep to dig the hole. The goal is to leave only 4" or so above the soil line so that the plants can really root into the soil. You really want to burry the majority of the stem and root.

Sprinkle some of the egg shells in the hole to help prevent tomato rot later on. 

Gently take the tomato plant out of its container and transfer it into the hole. 

Cover the hole with soil. Gently pack down the soil, but don't tamp it down too hard as the roots like loose soil. 

Water at the base of the plant. I watered my plants with compost tea. I won't water them every time with this, but I'll probably water it once/week with compost tea. The other days, I'm relying on rain or  regular ole well water. The weather in your area and soil composition will determine how much you need to water.

The tomato plant variety determines the spacing between plants, but most tomatoes should be planted approximately 18" to 24" apart.

Let me know how you're tomato plants are doing or if you have any tomato gardening advice...because I need all the help I can get!

Check out my other posts on My Tomatoes' Journey.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day!

Since my blog is all about Things My Mother Taught Me, I would be remiss if I didn't take a moment to acknowledge Mother's Day. As I've shared in previous posts, my mom taught me many, many life skills that have proven to be most important later on in life. But, don't envision this rosy picture of me as a young girl sweetly and respectfully hanging on to my mom's every word. (But, I guess you can picture us wearing the same outfit -- see picture to the right. I promise that is [nearly] the only time that happened. Ugh. What was she thinking? Turtlenecks? And, yes, those are wool sweaters with sheep on them. Don't get me started on the perm. Ha! That's 1991 for you!) Our time together was full of tears, anger, and hurtful words. I'm so thankful for this thing called "unconditional love", because I was a strong-willed handful. (I'm sure my parents snicker now, because God gave me a strong-willed, first-born son in return.)

I am ever-so thankful that my mom showed me all the domestic skills that she did. I would feel lost in life without them. So, thank you, Mom! Happy Mother's Day! All of your patience and dedication paid off and are greatly appreciated. 

Happy Mother's Day to all you moms out there!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

My Tomatoes' Journey: Acclimating Plants - Part 9

Before transplanting your plants outdoors, the tomato plants need some time to adjust to the change in environment. This process is known as "acclimating" or "hardening off". To do this, allow the plants to hang outside a few days before planting them into the ground.

You can begin this process after the last sign of frost. I err on the conservative side, so I wait until I know the whether will be nice before I begin. I generally give the plants three to four days to adjust to the outdoors. I stick them out on my patio during the day: a couple hours the first day, all day the second day, and then overnight the third day.

This gradual adjustment to the outdoors prevents the plants from being "shocked" and potentially dying when moving their home outside.

Check out my other posts on My Tomatoes' Journey.

My Tomatoes' Journey: Soil Preparation - Part 8

Before planting tomatoes in the soil outdoors, a little work needs to go into preparing the soil. I will be planting my garden in raised beds. This is certainly not the only way to do it. There is absolutely no shame in using pots for your tomato plants. I used that method for a few years when I first started my garden. But pots will limit the variety of tomatoes you can plant.

Here are my responses to a few questions you should ask yourself when getting your garden ready for planting.

What type of garden space should I use? 

Planting a garden can be as simple as tilling a patch of soil in your yard. Your soil may not be rich, black topsoil, or maybe you don't have the space for a garden plot. Some alternatives are raised beds or pots. I use raised beds, because my soil is more like clay than soil. So, I've hauled in a bunch of lush, rich dirt to my raised beds. This can be expensive depending on how high you make your bed. A higher bed requires more dirt, which means...ka-ching!

Gardening in pots is a great, cost-effective alternative. You don't need as much soil as a raised bed, and you can strategically place the pots in a sunny, safe (i.e., away from animals' reach) location. But pots limit you to the type of tomatoes you can plant. The larger varieties of tomatoes (beefmasters, Brandywines, etc.) don't do well in pots. Stick to cherry tomatoes or something similar if you are gardening in containers.  Make sure there are holes in the bottom for drainage.

Where should I plant the tomatoes?

Your garden plot should be in a sunny location. Tomatoes do the best when they get as much daytime sun as possible. At the very minimum, make sure the location gets adequate morning sunlight as this is the most important time of the day for the tomatoes to get sun. Morning sun will dry off the dew and prevent those pesky diseases that are often brought on by too much moisture.

What do I need to do to prepare the soil? 

If you're using pots, you simply need to fill your container with potting soil. Buy a nice, loose potting soil mixture and avoid the hard, weedy dirt from your yard.

If you're using a garden plot (including a raised bed), you should weed the area and loosen the dirt up   with a hoe and garden rake, or a tiller. Plants love aerated soil. Compact soil prevents the roots from becoming well established. If you're creating a brand new bed, a tiller may be necessary depending on the density of the soil.  Since I've used the same beds a few years in a row, hoeing the area is sufficient.

What about pH levels? 

The acidity (pH) of the soil may affect the success of your tomato plants. Tomatoes prefer a pH level between 6.0 and 6.5. If you don't know the pH of your soil (why would you unless you are a gardening nerd like me? :), you can buy a simple test kit to give you an idea of the pH level. For more accuracy, I went to the local, university-run coop which provides free soil sample testing. You could look in your area for something similar.

It's a lot easier to raise the pH than lower the pH. So, here are some tips if you need to alter the pH of your soil:
Add sulfur to the soil to lower the pH.

Lowering the pH: If you realize your pH is too high (which is the case for my soil), then you can add sulfur. Or another method you can pursue applying compost, compost manure, or mulch. I've tried the latter options in years past with no success. So, this year I used sulfur, which you can purchase at a nursery or home improvement store. Follow the instructions on the package.  
Raising the pH: If your pH is too low, then you can add bone meal to the soil. This is available at a nursery or home improvement store. Follow the instructions on the package. 

I have a lot to learn in the area of soil pH levels, so I'm learning along with you!

When should I add compost?

Now! You can either till in the compost or spread an inch or two on the garden bed's surface. You certainly don't have to add compost to your soil, but it should do wonders for your crop.


I hope that answers a few questions you may have about preparing the soil for planting your tomatoes.  Folks in the south may already have planted, but those in the north may have a few more weeks before they plant. I hope to get my plants in the ground this weekend, so stay tuned!

Do you have any suggestions on how to raise or lower the 
pH of your soil? 

What type of garden space do you use? 

Check out my other posts on My Tomatoes' Journey.