Monday, April 9, 2007

Ripe Tomatoes in June!

On the first day of Spring, Anthony at Compost Bin posted an excellent article about making "New Year's Resolutions" for your garden on that day instead of New Years Day. He challenged us garden bloggers to write a post about our 2007 gardening goals. He revealed one of his 2007 goals of making garden fresh pickles for the first time ever. Well Anthony, if 2007 is the year of the pickle for you, it is the year of the early tomato for me! Sometime in the month of June, I what to see this in my garden:

This may not seem like a big deal to you southern gardeners, but I am in northern Kentucky - just 20 miles from Ohio. Around here we don't get to eat garden fresh tomatoes until the middle of August.

On my earlier 2007 to do list post, I stated that I was hoping for ripe tomatoes by July 1st. I am now revising that to Before July 1st. Actually I'm hoping for June 24th because that is my birthday and I can't think of a better birthday present than a BLT sandwich made with an organic garden fresh tomato!

Enough with dates and dreams already! How am I going to accomplish harvesting extra early ripe tomatoes? It isn't easy. It is actually pretty labor intensive. I started with the tomato variety Early Girl which has a faster maturation than most. Jet Star or July 4th would also be good choices for extra early tomatoes. I sowed the seeds in a cell pack on Valentine's Day, two or three seeds per spot and put them under a shop light in the laundry room where it the dryer and the furnace make the room warm even in winter. After the seeds germinated, I thinned each pack to the strongest looking seedling. As soon as they had true leaves, I transplanted them to individual peat pots and put them under my main grow lights. After a couple of weeks, I transplanted the best four plants again to an even larger container. Then, just yesterday I planted the best two to yet an even larger container.

Each time I transplant them, I place them deeper in the new pot because new roots grow from the buried stem. Yesterday, I even trimmed off the lower leaves to be able to bury the plants even deeper. This intensive transplanting is designed to keep the plants growing as if they were outside. Plants will fill up the pots they are in and stop growing. That doesn't damage the plant for main season growing, but this operation is for extra-early tomatoes.

During the whole process, I try to keep as much light on the plants as possible. After transplanting up from the peat pots, it takes two shop lights just for these four early tomato plants. It becomes a bit of a challenge finding bigger containers each time. My intermediate containers were the plastic covers from a spindle of 100 CDs. The neat thing about that is that you could actually see all of the roots as they reached the outside of the container. One of my current pots is an old child's sand bucket. When I use items like these, I drill holes in the bottom of the container for drainage and for bottom watering. I never spray water on any of my seedlings. I always bottom water by pouring water in the trays and letting the roots or peat pots soak up the water. The steps that I've just described are all of them that I've done so far. There is more to do to prepare the outside locations for the tomato plants, but first I'll show you a montage of the steps I've just outlined:

Hopefully, this will be the last indoor transplant. It took nearly an entire bag of soil-less mix per plant. I will let them grow some more in their new containers for about tow weeks and then I will have to pay close attention to the weather. If we get some warm days, I will move the tomato plants outside for increasing amounts each day to harden them off and get the plants used to the real sun and wind. After a few days of hardening them off, I will plant these two tomato pioneers out in their permanent location under makeshift individual greenhouses. I am building wood frames with thick clear plastic wrapped around them. One will be used at night, and a different one with venting capabilities will be used for the days. This is when I will have to rely on my wife to tend their needs during the day based on the weather conditions. In addition to the "greenhouses", If I'm able to work up the bed the tomatoes will be growing in ahead of time, I will place black plastic over the area to warm the soil.

I will post again about how they are doing when we reach the outdoor stage. If the weather cooperates, it is entirely possible that I can beat my goal by a number of weeks, but when does the weather ever cooperate in Spring? This whole scheme for extra-early tomatoes is not my original creation. I got it from a book that I bought back in 1988, called The New Victory Garden by Bob Thompson.

Bob Thompson is much better than me at describing the process of growing early tomato. If you are interested in this book, you may be able to find it at your library, or it is available from Amazon starting at only $2.00.

Well Anthony, there you have my main 2007 garden goal. I will keep you and anyone interested posted on my progress so we can all see if I reach my goal. Hopefully we can celebrate together with June BLTs for me and fresh pickles for you!

If anyone else wants to post their goals for 2007, do so and let Anthony at Compost Bin know about it. I would be interested as well, but Anthony is the one who challenged us to do so.
You can email him at: Compostman@gmail.com

And/Or drop me a line at: Marc@GardenDesk.com

I hope you all reach your 2007 garden goals!

10 comments:

Kate

This is truly amazing! I do hope that you are eating tomatoes by 24 June - a fine birthday treat.

I am enjoying your blog ...

snappy

Thanks for dropping by.That is some labour intensive stuff you are doing for Tomatoes.I feel your passion.I grew some tomato plants last year from store bought tomatoes where i harvested some seeds.The resulting tomato plants gave me my first ever tomatoes.Lovely big and red, very juicy and sweet.
I want to grow some this year on my flats windowsills.I hope you have your tomatos by June.I will add your blog to my must read list and comment again soon!

Laura

I'm a southern gardener and I do love my tomatoes. I'm very impressed by your montage. I am a garden wimp and have never started anything from seed. Maybe this will be the year!

Take care.

Ottawa Gardener

Me too, I want tomatoes by June 24th not that I made a gardening resolution this year (first year blogging). Other than the usual resolutions to do everything properly this year.

I plan on sticking out tomatoes under recycled water jug cloches early (not all of them, just a sample few). I understand pruning reduces yield but shortens maturity.

Good luck!

carletongardener

My first tomato last year was July 31. I hope I can beat that this year. July 4th is a major challenge in my area (Boston). Maybe I can try for 2 weeks earlier than last year (July 17). I will plant in a sunnier/warmer area than last year and use black plastic. Fun to think about a fresh tomato! Good luck with your resolution!

Anthony

Awesome post! I think you're definitely on your way to June Tomatoes. I've had good luck with Early Girls but never as early as June. Well done.

Thanks for replying to the challenge.

Marc

Thank you to all of you who have commented so far.

It’s nice to know that you are routing for me to achieve those early maters!

Gotta Garden

Those are some mighty fine looking tomato plants! Good luck with them...if anyone can get June tomatoes, I think it will be you!

Just curious, did you think about that red plastic vs. the black? I also have the wall of water thing that I bought a couple years ago (never used...good intentions) that is supposed to enable you to plant tomatoes or whatever out earlier...

Of course, since I haven't even started any tomato seeds (I will!), I don't think I'll need any early efforts...I'll just hope for July tomatoes period!

Hey, have you started the basil to go with them? Gotta have that!

Callie Ann

Those tomatoes look dang beautiful. Wow I can smell them from here.

Blackswamp_Girl

I feel so far behind! :) I'm hoping that you really do get to eat some ripe, juicy, warm-from-the-garden tomatoes in June. (I'm drooling right now just thinking about that...)

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