Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Water for Gardens and Flowers

Left: Tumbler Tomato. Picture taken on April 24. It is already full of blossoms. This is a hanging basket tomato; one plant produces about 6-10 lbs of tomatoes in the season. Slightly larger than a cherry tomato. Delicious. Produces all summer. We start the seeds on Feb. 15 and transplant them first into 3" pots, then into 14" hanging baskets. First ripe fruit last week of May. This variety should not be planted in the ground as it has no resistance to many soil-borne diseases.

Unless you're lucky and live in a place where it rains gently during the night and the sun shines warmly during each day (Thank Adam and Eve for that), you may need to supply water to your plants.

It is best to water deeply less frequently rather than sprinkling the surface of the soil frequently. The reason is that the roots of plants will follow moisture. If you shallow-water, the roots will stay close to the surface of the soil, and on a hot day they will bake. If you water deeply, even if the surface is dry, there is moisture available for the roots deeper down, causing them to push deeper still. To make deep watering easier, it helps, in the case of individual plants, to build up the soil in a circle a few inches away from the plant, creating a saucer-like effect, which will help the water go deeply rather than running all over the garden. In the case of row crops, I like to plant the seeds into a furrow and don't completely fill the furrow in, leaving a channel for the water to stay (not helpful if the furrows run downhill in a sloped garden).

This is how I plant tomatoes:
I plant tomatoes that have been growing in a 5" pot, they are already 12-18" tall with finger-thick stems, but the principle is the same for all transplants--just the scale is different. I get the overgrown, twisted, ugly plants that are not likely to sell in the greenhouse. I plant 50 plants from which we eat all summer, give tomatoes away, I can about 60 quarts ripened in the garden and another 90-100 quarts as the green tomatoes ripen in the basement (all done by the end of October, when Christmas baking starts).

1. Dig a hole with a spade as deep as the soil allows without hitting clay ( my topsoil is more than 12" deep). Fill with water. Let the water seep away as you dig more holes and fill them with water.
2. Add a handful of bonemeal to each hole. Fill with water again. Let it seep away.
3. There will be mud at the bottom of the hole. Eyeball the length of the stem and the top crown of leaves. Pinch off any leaves along the stem that might be buried. Throw these into the hole.

4. I dig a hole in the mud with bare (or gloved) hand and put the root ball as deeply as possible. Fill the hole with water again (3rd time).

5. When the water has drained, fill with dry soil and form the saucer as mentioned above, but no more watering. I do not water again unless there is a prolonged dry spell.
6. Immediately place a strong tomato cage over the determinate (bush) types and a strong stake beside the vine types, careful not to damage roots. I use 5' lenghts of 3/8" rebar, pounded down about 18". Too many broken wooden stakes. As they grow I tie the plants to the rebar with strips of panty-hose ( who wears panty hose any more?) or other soft ties, non-plastic.

Tomatoes have the ability to make roots along the entire buried part of the stem. More roots, more nutrient absorption, more drought tolerance.

The reason I cover with dry soil is because of moisture wicking. If the soil surface in the garden is dry, and there is a wet spot, that wet spot will wick up moisture from beneath the surface as it evaporates. This is what has happened when you see dry, cracked soil around a plant that has been watered, then the soil dried out. This does not happen after a rain because everything is wet all over. If the soil is mulched, this wicking doesn't happen.

If your soil does not percolate well ( the water does not drain away), water as well as possible during planting and for the next few days, then cover with more dry soil or mulch.

Since my garden is so big I rarely water after planting it, unless it is very hot and dry within the first week or so.

How I plant seeds:
1. Open the furrow. I use the corner of a hoe. Fill it with water. After it seeps away, fill with water again. Guess what comes next? Right, do it again if you have time.

2. Place the seeds. Cover the seeds with fine dry soil, approximately as deeply as the diameter of the seeds or a bit more. Do not fill in the entire furrow in case later watering is needed, with the back of a rake, press the soil down so the seeds make contact with the moisture.

For reason mentioned above, I don't water on top of the soil in the furrows.

This procedure works for me. Ask other experienced gardeners and they will have their own pet ideas, and may even contradict each other.

When leaving a part of the garden, always drag a rake behind you. Weeds will germinate better where soil is compacted, yet be harder to pull there. Dragging a rake really reduces weeds in the pathways.

My personal favorite tomato varieties:

Early Cascade (vine), Celebrity (bush), Mamma Mia (bush, early Roma type), Ultra Boy (vine), Supersteak (vine), Big Beef (vine), Ultra Girl (vine), Lemon Boy (yellow, low-acid vine), Hy Beef (bush), Champion (forgot what kind), Sungold/Sunsugar (vine, Peachy-yellow cherry tomato, sweet as fruit), Juliet (vine, tomatoes the size of large grapes). These are all short-season varieties.

For reason mentionedpen

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting post! I want those hanging basket tomatoes. Hate growing them in the ground!!! And the wicking? Never even thought of that before. You should write a book and share your knowledge of northern growing. Seriously...