Friday, August 27, 2010

The Plan, Part II

I just took delivery of four—count 'em, four—5-gallon coconut coir grow bags. I used these last year to grow Better Boy tomatoes with decent results. Basically, these are black plastic 5-gallon bags with expandable growing media already packaged in them. You simply add water, the coconut coir growing media expands, and you plant. Well, it's almost that simple. Coconut doesn't exactly have the same properties as composted peat, which is the main ingredient in most bagged potting soils, so you have to make a few adjustments to it along the way. But as with so many things, I'll get into that more later.

For now, I wanted to round out the growing plan for this year. The big news is that I'm expanding the tomato garden this year to cover a whole bunch of stuff, including strawberries, cucumber, hot peppers, romaine lettuce, broccoli, and a full herb garden. I'm dropping the cabbage and eggplants, which I grew last year. It turns out there's no way to convince the family to eat cabbage and eggplant, so it's kind of wasted effort to grow it.

So here is the final plan, including a brief mention of how I'll be growing each crop. In the coming days and weeks, as I start to raise seedlings, I'll go over each of these in greater depth, because of course there are details like potting media, soil amendments, and fertilizers that must be attended to. As always, my goal is to find the best way to get the most food from the smallest space, which explains the hodgepodge of growing methods. Here goes:

  • Brandywine tomatoes in a 25-gallon container
  • Cherokee purple tomatoes in a 25-gallon container
  • Victoria Supreme paste tomates in a 15-gallon container
  • Heinz tomatoes in a 15-gallon container
  • Broccoli in an Earthbox
  • Romaine lettuce in an Earthbox
  • Jamaican hot chocolate peppers in a 10-gallon container
  • Big Bomb cherry peppers in a 7-gallon container
  • Yellow pear tomatoes in a 5-gallon coconut grow bag
  • Cucumbers in a 5-gallon coconut grow bag
  • Strawberries in stackable containers
I'm especially excited about the strawberries. Stackable containers are just what they sound like: multi-ported containers that stack one upon another to yield a tower of growing space. You're growing vertically, not horizontally, so I'll be able to grow something like 60 strawberry plants in one 2-foot square tower. The towers can be rotated so the strawberries receive equal sunlight. I've never grown this way before, so I'm hoping it works. Incidentally, so is my five-year-old son—last year, not one strawberry from my test plants made it into the house because he'd sneak outside and eat them all. If you're interested in stackables, mine are being shipped from here.

So there it is. In my way of thinking, you don't need a ton of space to grow enough vegetables to feed your family for the season. You just need to grow smart, so each plant yields as much as possible. And if there's extra, you can always give it away.

My last thought: it's still too early to plant seeds, so resist. And definitely resist buying tomato plants from the garden center. It's waaaaay too early for that.

Up Next: Getting Dirty—The First of Many Posts About Potting Media and Why It Matters So Much


  1. I'm looking forward to seeing what you do, especially starting Tomatoes from seed, which we have never done. Last year we had a horrible year with the tomato plants. They pretty much died w/o giving any fruit. Too cold? Too much rain? Who knows.

    The year before we had a bumper crop with tons of tomatoes because we finally learned what was killing our plants for so many seasons: grey leaf spot. We reluctantly sprayed for the fungus and had real, serious success with the tomatoes for the first time in many years. Sweet 100's that year were the best tomatoes I have ever eaten. The Yellow pear tomatoes were a close second.

    Thanks for blogging about this topic!

  2. Marcy,

    Thanks for stopping by! I usually have to end up treating for fungal diseases, too, and thank goodness for copper fungicide. You can also remove infected leaves at the first sign of problems and that will slow it down a little bit.

    I like Sweet 100s, but I don't grow many small-fruited tomatoes anymore—I don't really know why. I am excited, however, about the yellow pear tomatoes I"m doing this year. I've never done them before.

    Feel free to drop by as your season goes along and let me know how it's going.

  3. Hi Jon, did you see this?


  4. Catherine,

    No, I hadn't seen that, but thanks for the pointer. That's really cool, and I always get a kick of using wine vocabulary for stuff like tomatoes. Who would have thought a tomato could have "a long floral finish with top notes of cabernet and licorice"?

  5. I like the idea of trying strawberries. Will you get some plants or grow from seeds?

    I really liked reading your blog last season - I think it was the best resource I had, since it was specific to So Fla. Thanks!

  6. John,

    Yeah, I'm into the strawberry idea also. I did a test plant last year with great success. I'm going to buy plants this season ... I'm pretty new to strawberries, so I don't think I need to get fancy just yet.

    And thanks. I really like keeping up the blog and it's even better when people can use it for something.