Saturday, May 17, 2008

When to Plant Tomatoes

It is always hard for me to decide when to plant my warm weather crops. May can be a beautiful month, with sunny skies and 65-80 degree weather; or it can be a cold dreary month with constant drizzle and in the low 50s; and yes it has snowed on rare occasion. Brrr. In addition the weather here is a very fickle mistress. It can start with a fine batch of sun and warmth and quickly switch to cold and wet. The usual last frost date at my house is around the first of May. I live toward the top of a breezy hill. It can be cold because of the wind, but the later frosts usually miss us. This year our last frost was April 15th. We are predicted to have a colder than usual week, but this is because it is going to be cloudy, so the nighttime lows will not be bad. I sincerely doubt that the nighttime lows will get below 45 degrees again.

Many people consider Memorial Day the day one should plant tomatoes. It is certainly a very safe day to do it. But if we have sunny weather with winds off the land as opposed to the ocean, getting the plants in early can give them a few extra weeks of growth and of course that means earlier tomatoes - the gardener’s Holy Grail. My tomato plants were ordered for May 15th and I duly picked up then. So I had no choice this year. I could have held them for a short time in their pots, but they are nice sized plants already. They would rather be in the ground. So today they were planted along with my peppers. The tomato plants were about 6” tall. I stripped off the bottom leaves; put in some organic fertilizer, worm castings and crushed eggshells into the hole; sprinkled on the mycorrhizae fungi that I talked about yesterday; and planted them deeply. Only the top couple of inches poked out.

If you think this all went smoothly, you would be very mistaken. I kept forgetting to sprinkle on the mycorrhizae. So occasionally I would have to dig up a plant again. The soil additions are easy. You dig all the holes first. Then put each addition into the holes. If I had taken all the plants out of their pots, then sprinkled, then planted, I would have been fine. But I hate having the roots exposed to the air more than necessary. I’m sure I’ll get used to the new procedure, but for now half the plants get dug up again.

One more addition was needed; something to keep the cutworms from destroying the plants. Most people use cutworm collars. I use them sometimes too, but often I just use small sticks. I find thin straight sticks about 5 inches long and place them along the stem on both sides; 3” under the soil and 2” above the soil. If a cutworm can’t wrap its body around the plant, it won’t cut it off.

Then I had to reassemble the bed. I cut holes in the black plastic where the plants come through. I had a short piece of clear plastic as my hoop tunnel, but found a longer piece today in the garage. I had to carefully pick the tape off. The plastic obviously was wrapping something in the past, but now it wraps my garden. The bed is covered with clear plastic and the ends are no longer open. I will have to open them later when it gets hotter, but this week will only be in the low 60s and relatively breezy and cloudy, this will provide more protection. When I found the clear plastic in the garage, I also found two old water jugs. So I filled those up, and stuck them under the plastic. Water provides great thermal mass, and keeping the plants warmer at night is always good - at least for tomatoes in spring.

No comments:

Post a Comment