Monday, October 24, 2011

And They're Underway ...

How weird was last week, right? After three days of rainy, windy, overcast weather, I felt like I was back in Michigan where I'm from (and where the sun never shines in the winter). I'd wanted to get my tomatoes into their containers last week, but considering the weather, I just moved them under an overhang and waited.

And then this weekend! Wow. Talk about perfect fall weather. This is the kind of weather that reminds me why I live in Florida in the first place. So I spent a thoroughly pleasant Saturday buying my soil ingredients and getting things ready to transplant. Over the next few days, I'll transplant everything into their containers and expect to start harvesting in January. Once again, I'm doing tomatoes (25 gal. containers and 15 gal. containers), broccoli (Earthbox), several kinds of peppers (Earthboxes), strawberries (vertical towers), mustard greens (vertical towers), lettuce greens (vertical towers), and herbs (small containers).

A few early season developments ...

Believe it or not, the first bugs have already appeared. I've discovered both white flies and tiny tomato hornworms on several plants already. I'm handpicking the tomato hornworms and using Neem oil everything else. This brings up a good point: spend a little time with your plants, every morning if you can, and watch very closely. Pest problems almost always begin on the underside of leaves, so make sure to flip up the leaves and look closely. Downy white filaments (webs), holes and tiny droppings that look like pepper grains are all signs of pests.

After much wondering, I've finally decided on my anti-fungal approach for the early season. First off (and most importantly), I'm going to be treating proactively, but I'm sticking with organic products:

  • Neem oil. I've not used neem on tomatoes, but overall it's kind of wonderful stuff. It's an insecticide with anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. It's very safe for humans, and I've already started treating the plants once a week with it.
  • Copper fungicide. This is an organic fungicide. I'm using it as a weekly spray to prevent early season fungus from taking hold (hopefully).
  • BT (bacillus thuriengiensis). This is the mother of all anti-caterpillar treatments. I use the powder and sprinkle it on the plants liberally maybe once a month or so.
Aside from neem, I've used these other two products, but I think the difference this year is I'm acting proactively: I'm going to hopefully prevent the kind of early season problems I had last year that took out several of my plants and reduced my yield.

Oh yeah ... and the soil mix. In the past, I've grown tomatoes successfully in all kinds of potting soils, even the ones that plant snobs turn their noses up. I've also mixed up my own potting mix with excellent results. This year, I'm doing a bit of a hybrid mix:
  • Fafard 3B Professional Mix, which is basically just composted peat moss, perlite, pine bark fines, and dolomite lime
  • Composted cow manure, for a slight organic food boost
  • Perlite, to air out the mix after I add the cow manure (which is too heavy for good drainage, and good drainage is ESSENTIAL for good plant growth)
  • Dolomite lime, just a few tablespoons to boost the calcium and counteract the manure's acidity
  • Blood meal, for nitrogen
  • Bone meal, for another boost of calcium
So you see, it's some of this and some of that. Some bagged potting soil and some additions of my own. We shall see.

In general, though, I'm really excited about this weather: there's nothing like walking outside on these mornings and spending some quality time with the plants before the day starts.


  1. Have you ever tried compost tea as a foliar spray? I have heard great things from biased sources about it protecting against microbial and fungus problems.

  2. You can choose to prune your plants or let them grow wild. Un-pruned plants will develop many stems and if not supported, they will sprawl across the ground and take up a lot of space.
    Tomatoes that are pruned down to just a few stems will be more compact in size, can be staked, and will produce larger fruit.
    Around the time when your tomato plants start to produce flowers, they will also start producing side branches. Side branches are stems that emerge from the nodes between leaves and the main stem. They are commonly known as "suckers," and some say that they do not produce fruit. However, this is not true at all. Side branches will produce flowers and fruit just like the original stem. The result of side branches is a bushy tomato plant with many stems, and probably many fruit as well.
    Many tomatoes are grown hydroponically. Hydroponic tomatoes can taste as good as tomatoes grown in rich soil outdoors. There are some other factors that influence their growth:-
    Temperature - Tomatoes do best within a range of 55-85 degrees F. Tomato plants can be severely damaged or killed by prolonged cold or even a brief exposure to frost. Tomatoes can handle high temperatures, but are damaged by prolonged temperatures over 93 degrees F.
    Nutrients - Tomatoes need properly-designed nutrients that are easily absorbed, properly balanced, and rich in nitrogen and other components.
    Light - Whether grown indoors or outdoors, tomato plants need exposure to full, strong light for at least five hours each day.
    Pollination – If tomatoes are to bear fruit, they need to be pollinated. Unless growers are going to engage in artificial pollination, the plants must be accessible to pollinators, which can include insects and wind. Obviously, it is difficult to provide pollinator access to plants grown indoors or in greenhouses.
    Overall environmental conditions - Tomato plants suffer when there are windy conditions, extreme heat or cold, polluted air or soils, or presence of insects, blight or disease. Tomatoes need adequate water, but they do not need to be drowned. Avoid overwatering as much as you guard against drought.