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.

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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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Sun’s Gettin’ Shinery to Spotlight the Finery…Spring, Spring Spring…

907392_10151373119960886_2119007421_nWhen Montana chooses to show off, nothing can compare.  Beautiful sunny weather with temperatures in the upper fifties and low sixties have made it impossible to stay inside to write blog posts.  (Mantra…must remember…live life first, write about it if I have time)  And the fact is, we have just been plain busy.  Our friends opened a brewery, which we like to frequent.  We went to the high school academic endowment ball.  We threw a birthday party for my husband’s 40th birthday.  Time just gets away from you, you know?

Love the brewery!

Love the brewery!

Back to the weather.  We all understand, in this part of the country, that the price for this delightful weather is a rainy, cold June.  Or a late season snow storm.  Or an intense fire season.  But you know what?  We pretty much don’t care.  The sun is so wonderfully warm this time of year–the wind can be chilly, as can shady spots, but standing in the sun is simply blissful.  We look for reasons to be outside, which isn’t hard–but I’m running into that situation where I want to do all is yard work, but I can’t.  The fact is, it is still only the beginning of April.  Winter is not likely done with us yet, so you don’t want to invest too much energy into planting.

That didn’t stop me from staking out my new flower bed, or raking my yard.

My flower bed-to-be

My flower bed-to-be

I did some early season weeding.  I regularly walk around the side of our new garage, where I will eventually make raised beds and grow my tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, herbs and raspberries.  I visualize the shade garden that will edges the not-yet-existent sidewalk next to the garage.  I fret about whether my current raspberry canes will get enough light now that the garage has been built (they won’t…they have to move).

Visions of tomato and pepper plants danced in my head...

Visions of tomato and pepper plants danced in my head…

I have also been spending time in the community garden, getting ready for our first plot holders meeting.  I am thrilled to announce that we are FULL for the the first time since we were established in 2010.  It feels good, because the vision those of us in the planning committee had is finally coming to fruition (no pun intended).

There is still a lot to do–on Wednesday, kids from the Center for Restorative Youth Justice are coming out to help me even out the land for garden plots, raised beds, and the green house.  They will also help me organize the tool shed.  My partner-in-crime, and true heart of the community garden is Naomi.  She and her husband staked out plots this morning, and the two of us geeked out for a bit about all the exciting things we want to see in the garden.

My husband constructed the raised beds for onions and leeks, and we put some black plastic down on my own plots to warm the soil and discourage weed/grass growth.  I stared at the empty plots for a long time today, mentally arranging my plants for the season.  After planting the community garlic bed last fall, I had a few bulbs left over.  I couldn’t bear to waste them so I stuck them in my bed–and they are starting to grow (so cool to see the frist green growth of spring). It is way too early to put much of anything in the ground right now, even if the weather is trying to trick us into believing otherwise.

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Community Garden Garlic Bed

My cheeks are a little bit sunburned.  I have dirt under my fingernails.  And I couldn’t be happier!