The Great Tomato Dilemma

I love growing tomatoes.  Hands down, they are my favorite yield from the garden.  We eat them fresh, and can the rest.  Such satisfaction!  Last year, I started 12 Roma  plants from seed during the first week of April.  They were amazing, if a bit behind their local nursery counterparts.  In fact, because I never trust my own seedlings to thrive, I bought 20+ “back up” tomato plants of different varieties–and then planted my dozen starts because they were doing so well.  I put up 74 jars of tomato products. It was a banner tomato year.

tomatoes

Last year’s crop

Emboldened by my success, I started 36 tomatoes from seed this year during the first week of March.  Now, understand–I have shelf with two grow lights as my set up, which works fine for a seed starting tray with 72 holes.

seed starts

But guess what?  Plants grow.  And they need to be re-potted into six packs.

seedlings

And then into 4 inch containers.  It is rather a pain.  Hoping I could get the plants into the raised bed, I held off on the last re-potting.  But they were a tangled mess, falling over and breaking their stems.  Still, I really thought I could hold out.  Maybe I could make it to mid-May, as long as I covered them against the still cold nights.  So silly–I live in NW Montana!  You just don’t put tomatoes (or peppers or basil) into the ground until at least Memorial Day.  Or, as the old-timers say, “until the snow is off Big Mountain” which some summers might mean mid-July.  I vacillated about this for 2 weeks.  My poor husband and my friends had to listen to me debate myself:  re-pot one more time, or wait it out?

I decided to wait.

But then, as I was watering my beloved tomato plants, I noticed these:

tomato nodules

The dreaded root nodules

Horrid little nodules on the stems.  I used this picture, threw it into Google images and voilà!  They aren’t good.  The stress of the too-small containers were likely forcing the plants to create these root nodules.  The nodules develop because the first line of saving itself is trying to throw out more roots to gather more nutrients.  But this just wouldn’t do.  I decided that I would just plant them out–after all, I could protect them with Remay and soil warming plastic, right?  Well…even though we had just experienced 3 70 degree days, it was still too early.  I knew it.  But I rationalized that I couldn’t possibly re-pot all the tomatoes, and the seven of them that looked especially peakish would die anyway if I didn’t plant them.  So I took the four of the least sickly of the sickly plants, and, without hardening them off (because who really needs to do that?  Well, me.  I need to do that) planted them in my raised bed.  I covered the soil with red plastic, which I used successfully last year.  I placed crunched up egg shells in the trench I dug, and placed the plants in sideways as is recommended for root growth.  I put the tomato cage around the plant, watered it, and then wrapped the cage in Remay.

photo 1 (4)

My little tomato soldiers.

But you know what?  It’s way too early to plant tomatoes.  And they definitely need to be hardened off.  And I should have just gone and found bigger pots.  Because these are sad, sad little tomato plants.

photo 2 (3)     photo 3 (3)

The one on the left has a chance, maybe.  Not really.  I’ll keep you posted.

On the bright side, I went ahead and re-potted the rest of my tomato seedlings in anything I could find.  Some of  the less hearty ones needed to be sacrificed for the good of the whole, which was very hard for me to do.  I feel guilty thinning carrots.

I found supports and tied my stems to them and look great.  I moved some to a sunny window.  Now my peppers have a little room, and I imagine I will be re-potting them next weekend.

photo 2 (2)

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What is the moral of this story?  Wait two more weeks to start seedlings.  Maybe three.  And unless you have lovely hoop houses, don’t put tomatoes out when it is 50 degrees with wind and rain.

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