Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Growing Tomatoes in Containers

This year’s Great Tomato Growing Experiment: is this small area (4’x16’), adjacent to a north-facing fence, truly the sunniest spot on the property?

After monitoring my entire full sun-deprived Folsom yard for nearly three years, this one spot, near the garage, may be the one area that gets more than eight hours of direct sun a day, perfect for growing tomatoes.

The dilemma (well, two dilemmas, actually): because it is a concrete surface, the tomatoes must be grown in containers; and, how do you avoid water stains on the concrete when the barrels drain?

Solution: use a big container (in this case, half barrels with five 7/8” drain holes drilled through the bottom) and place that container on top of a catch basin with several 3/4” holes drilled on the side rim on the back side, allowing the water to drain from the catch basin to the  12” wide gravel area along the fence line.

 

The prototype catch basin was at the suggestion of radio guest Lori Ann Asmus, who decorates Christmas trees professionally (you can see her work during the holiday season at various lobbies in public buildings, including the downtown Sacramento’s Citizen Hotel).
The catch basins were, in reality, meant for placing beneath Christmas trees to catch any water overflowing the tree holders. They are available wherever fine Christmas tree accessories are sold (such as Emigh Hardware, in December).

The barrel/catch basin combo have shims under the front side, allowing a gentle slope towards the fence, coaxing the water to go out the back side of the holes in the catch basin and into the gravel. So far, so good.

Regarding the container dilemma: when planting thirsty summer vegetables in full sun, try to use the largest containers, preferably made out of something that doesn’t allow heat build-up, such as plastic (it’s not unusual for the soil in an unprotected plastic pot in full sun to reach temperatures in excess of 140 degrees on a day in the upper 90’s). A wood barrel works perfect for that purpose. Plus, the greater volume of soil in a barrel (as opposed to a 15-gallon plastic pot) also helps the plant avoid stress from dried-out soil if you miss a watering during 90 and 100-degree days. And, more soil means more room for root development.

Because a container plant may need water every day in the summer, I’ve given these two tomato plants (a Champion 2 full size tomato and a very popular grape tomato I have never tried before, Juliet) their own watering system: a battery operated timer on a nearby faucet with a Y-adapter. Connected to the timer is a short, half-inch drip line run, going along the backside of the barrels.

Connected to the half inch line: quarter inch tubing snaked through a small hole on the lower backside of the barrel, and topped off with an adjustable drip bubbler/sprinkler in the middle, which sends out 6 or 8 even streams of water in a circle. Unfamiliar with drip irrigation systems? Entire kits are available, such as this.

https://amzn.to/2DSusag


Pro tip: run the quarter inch line in the barrel BEFORE filling it with a good quality potting soil. (By the way, “Pro Tip” = “lesson learned the hard way”).


The tomato cages are made from 4’x5’ sheets of concrete reinforcement wire, 6” mesh (for easy reaching of the tomatoes). Bend the sheets in a circle and fasten with plastic zip ties. Or, use your barbed wire tool (what? everyone doesn’t have a barbed wire tool?) to cut off the vertical 12-gauge wire ends on one side, and then bend the free horizontal wires around the opposite side.

Watering containerized plants is tricky, and must be increased or decreased more frequently, depending on the weather. Having a nearby faucet/timer/drip system in place helps ease those adjustments.

Fertilization can also be tricky. Because of the leaching nature and frequent watering that an easy-draining potting mix needs during the summer, fertilizers must be applied more frequently. Note that “frequently” does not mean “more fertilizer”. If, for example, the directions on your slow-release vegetable fertilizer package advises fertilizing with a certain dosage once a month, modify it to meet the needs of your container plant: cut the dosage in half, and apply every other week.
Don’t forget that topping that containerized plant with a few inches of a bark mulch can help maintain soil moisture on a hot day and also keep the soil temperature moderate.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

2019 Vegetable Planting Calendar

Farmer Fred’s  2019 Vegetable Planting Calendar for California's Central Valley, East Bay and Low Foothills



Click on the name of the vegetable for growing information.

S: Plant from Seed   
S/P: Seed or Plants directly in the garden
∞: Start Seed in Pots in Protected Area       
P: Set Out Plants Only



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S: Plant from Seed   
S/P: Seed or Plants directly in the garden
∞: Start Seed in Pots in Protected Area       
P: Set Out Plants Only