Great Weather! Time to Plant?

RAIN5

Wow! Great weather this weekend with no wind, warm temperatures and wonderful rain today. I hear tomorrow brings more rain. Today we had some great rain and boy is it welcomed. The native plants and trees and all of our plants are sucking it up. I can’t remember getting this much rain at this time of year in May. A great big plus is the night temperatures are starting to warm up too with the next 10 nights suppose to be from 35°F- mid 40’s. Pretty cold but above freezing.

So can we plant tomatoes? Is it time? Well that depends on whether the nighttime temperatures remain above freezing. Of course the first frost-free date is officially May 15th historically speaking, but back in 2011, we had a very warm May and many of us planted early as it never got below freezing that May. Is this one of those Mays? Who knows, unless you have a magic ball. By the way, I waited to plant my giant pumpkins till later in 2011 (as they are so frost tender) and my 2010 State Record got broken that year by someone who went for it early. I guess I should have put them in but I just didn’t want to chance it. You have to be a bit of a gambler to put your plants in now.

tomatoes in wall of waters 1

But if you are a gambler and want to plant your tomatoes early, be sure you plant using wall of waters (WOW) as shown above.  If you use them, and the temperatures dip below freezing, they will protect your new tender plants. I always use them even when the nighttime temps are in the 40’s as I feel they provide more heat at night and keep them from setbacks. The cells of water warm up all day and give back the warmth at night to the plants like little greenhouses or cloches. Once they outgrow the WOW’s  (like in the photo above), take them off  the tomatoes, which will probably be late May. Do not leave them on all summer.

2014 Tomato Season in Santa Fe

closeup of virginia sweet

My all time favorite-an heirloom-a ‘Virginia Sweet’ tomato-a super sweet tomato worth the wait and weight.

Every year I try to get to the Farmers Market EARLY to sell tomatoes. Early to me would be end of July. Actually I would be delighted to even get to the market the first week of August. But no. Never. It’s not me I swear-I do my job. I get the tomato plants in the ground early enough. It’s THE WEATHER! Every year someone will ask me at the market how come they:

1. Don’t have any tomatoes or

2. Only have lots of green ones.

This year it’s the later because of THE WEATHER. So let me explain-No. 1 and No. 2 above and how both relate to THE WEATHER. This year we didn’t have a super hot June which was great because our tomato blossoms were able to set fruit in June. (If it’s really hot in June, then we experience blossom drop. Tomato blossoms won’t set fruit in temperatures 92°F and hotter.  They would have all dropped off all their little blossoms in our stinking hot Junes – hence no fruit and they grow more blossoms and set fruit up in July when it’s cooler but that puts us behind-see no. 1.)  But that’s not the case this year.

So on to no.2-we got LOTS of fruit now but they are mostly still green so we are still behind. Why? THE WEATHER! Now I don’t mean to pass the buck here as they say, but it’s true. July and now August this year has been delightfully cool and rainy. Daytime temperatures are cooler and nighttime temperatures are definitely cooler. Just like the old days with a real monsoon season. Now those of you new to the area (meaning you have moved here sometime in the last 12 years) have not really experienced the monsoon season, so enjoy it. Who knows when we will get another since we’ve been in drought like conditions the last 12 years.

Ok, back to why it’s THE WEATHER’S FAULT! So what’s happen is we have lots of green fruit but now we need some WARM SUNNY days to ripen the fruit. Even though the fruit can’t tolerate too hot of weather when trying to set fruit, after it’s set, they need warm sunny days to ripen up. All we’ve been mostly experiencing is very cool weather. Ah, what are we gonna do? It’s either too hot when they set blossoms or too cool to ripen.  Both scenarios make for a very late tomato season. Ah crumba!  I hope we get the warm days soon before fall comes as I have a ton of tomatoes on the vines! I sometimes wonder why I even bother and then I remember! I love tomatoes! I love trying new varieties! I’m a tomato addict!

Wall of Waters 101

I think Wall of Waters are one of the best early season aids for tomatoes and peppers in cooler areas of the country acting like little greenhouses keeping the plants warm at night, protecting them from our ferocious winds in spring and for getting a great head start for growth but they can be hard to put up around the plants especially if you are trying to do it yourself. I have another post addressing what amendments I use when planting  and how to plant tomatoes  but this primer is about wall of waters. You can still use wall of waters right now as the nights are still very cool for tomatoes and peppers.

1wow begin by watering

Here is the planted tomato with a big well around it. If the well isn’t big enough than the wall of water will sit lopsided. (I still had to put the drip line around the plant BEFORE I put the wall of water on it). Notice the green wall of water on the ground and the 5 gallon bucket. Some tomatoes are too tall for the bucket so I cut off the bottom of this 5 gallon bucket, first using a drill bit to drill a hole big enough so my sawzall tool could get inside and cut off the circular bottom. The bucket can go over the plant without smashing it over tall tomatoes.

2wow placing over bucketPut the bucket over the plant and then slide the wall of water (henceforth known as WOW) over the bucket.

3wow waterer

Another great tool for filling the WOWs is this watering wand. I like this one because it has an on-off switch and a lever for control of how fast the water comes out. Here I took off the end so it will fit easily inside each cell. (this is my favorite gardening shoe-can you tell-well worn?!!)

4wow-begin filling

Now put the wand into each ‘cell’ and fill with water. The 5 gallon bucket will keep the WOW from falling on the plant.

5fill cells each side

Fill a couple of cells, then go to the OPPOSITE side and fill a couple of cells and do this on all 4 sides instead of starting on one cell and going around where it will have a tendency to collapse. This will help the WOW to stand up better as you fill up the cells.

6wow finished

After filling all the cells, reach in a pull the 5 gallon bucket out and the WOW will now support itself. A perfect little greenhouse. But sometimes…

7wow REPAIRED

a cell will get a hole and leak after the WOW is a few years old. This is a problem as the WOW needs every cell  full to support itself, so…

8wow replacement cell

So you can buy replacement cells or make your own. Just take that leaky WOW and cut some good cells out of it for use as replacement cells for other leaky WOWs.

9wow installing rep cell

Take your replacement cell and fold it lengthwise in half as shown and slide it into the cell where the water leaked out.

10wow w replacement cell

Then fill up the replacement cell with water and it will hold up that cell. Now one last thing…

11wow finished with stakes

I put 3 bamboo stakes inside the WOW’s right next to the walls and make a tee-pee out of them and tie them together at the top in case the WOW wants to collapse from the wind, the tee-pee will hold the WOW up so it doesn’t crush the plant. These plants have been inside the WOWs for a while and I will take off the WOWs now. Just grab the WOW on opposite sides and pull them off the plant and dump the water back in the wells.

Soil temperature is Important When Planting Tomatoes

TOMATO COSTOLUTO

Now is the time to start planting our tomatoes and other warm season veggies outside in our gardens. So often we concentrate on only the air temperature to decide when to plant these crops but the soil temperature is actually just as important. Tomatoes should be planted when the soil temperature reaches a minimum of 60°F in the daytime. If you plant too early in cold soil, tomato (and pepper) seedlings sulk and will not be happy. Root development is very slow and the roots have difficulty absorbing nutrients. The plants could show phosphorus deficiency which shows up as stunted plants with purple leaves on the underside. If your plants get this, top dress them with some powdered rock phosphate and water in.  Nothing is gained from planting too early in the ground. This may account for why we always seem to get the bulk of our tomatoes in August and not earlier when planted outside no matter when we plant. The tomatoes will just sit there until the soil temperature is optimum.

To measure the soil temperature, use a soil thermometer. I prefer using a compost thermometer because they are much longer, usually around 24″ and can be used to check both the temperature of my compost pile and the soil in my vegetable bed before I plant tomatoes. Remember to push it in deeper into your bed as the tomato plant won’t be in the top 3″ but more likely planted deeper where the soil is cooler. I find the short soil thermometers just aren’t long enough to measure the soil temperatures more than about 5 inches and quite often I plant tomatoes much deeper. I got my compost thermometer online but I recently saw some at Payne’s Nursery here in Santa Fe.

To warm up soil sooner, you can put black plastic over the bed to pre-warm the soil. I use black plastic garbage bags that I tack down with rocks. That way I can reuse the bags later instead of buying a roll of black plastic. Leave it on for 1-2 weeks and take the temperature to see when the soil warms up to the optimum temperature. Many warm season vegetables could benefit from planting in warmer soil.

Here is a chart I found from Farmerfredrant giving the optimum soil temperatures for planting vegetables. I’m showing it here but also listed it as a pdf (soil temperatures for veggie seeds ) so you can print it out as well.

soil temperatures for veggie seeds

Giant Pumpkin Cotyledon Leaves Compared to Tomato Cotyldon Leaves

Here’s a comparison of the giant pumpkin cotyledon leaves (the first 2 leaves to pop out) along with it’s first true leaf compared to a tomato cotyledon leaves along with it’s first true leaf. Notice the size difference! Giant pumpkin cotyledon leaves are the biggest baby leaves I’ve ever seen.

cotyledon leaves on giant pumpkin and tomato

Transplanted Tomatoes Again to Bigger Pots

Ok, yesterday I made another mess in the kitchen. I transplanted more tomatoes up to bigger pots from 2 inch pots to 4 inch pots. I washed the empty pots in bleach water and after planting them, I fertilized them with a weak solution of fish emulsion and Thrive. I knew I needed to transplant them as their roots were growing out of the bottom and they were starting to look stressed. Stressed? How can they be stresssed when they are in a nice warm cozy house under gro lights in a controlled environment-just wait till they get out in the ground, then they’ll be stressed! I tell them they got it cushy now. I think they know their going out early!

I’m chomping to get the tomatoes out. Patience, I tell myself. I looked up when I planted the tomatoes last year and the year before. Last year I planted tomatoes on May 4th and the year before I planted on April 29th when we had a warmer spring. So I guess I’ll wait till around the first of May. It’s always a guessing game when to plant if you want to plant earlier than the first frost free date which is May 15th here in Santa Fe. I like to try to sneak in the tomatoes early because I grow so many mid-late varieties which can take all the way up to 100 days+ to harvest. We have such a short growing season here in Santa Fe that I use all kinds of season extenders to get them in early so they have more time to ripen before that first frost next fall. OMG! I can’t be talking already about fall, we just got into spring and the plants aren’t even in the ground!

Giant tomato

Here is a picture of one of my giant tomatoes on it’s way to stardom. (I hope!)

baby giant tomato

Notice this tomato looks deformed and gnarly. It has 4 little tomatoes that have fused together-kinda like Siamese twins only this one is quadruplets! Most giant tomatoes are a result of a megablossom where 2 or more blossoms fuse together. Many megablossoms do not pollinate fully and so they have a higher self abort rate. So far this one is doing well. I have a few other megablossoms right now but not many. Some varieties produce more megablossoms and hence more giant tomatoes. Two varieties that have the potential of producing giant tomatoes are Delicious and Big Zac. There are other varieties that can produce giant tomatoes too. This one in the picture comes from a Nick Harp tomato seed. His plant grew a 7 lb+ tomato last year and he gave me a few seeds. I call his plants the ‘Harpies”! I have 5 growing right now. Hope this one becomes a monster! Since I’m an organic grower I’ve been feeding it fish and seaweed fertilizer from the Neptune brand.