Do As I Say…

…Not as I do. Although the tomatoes appear to have weathered the recent cold spell fairly well, they probably would have benefited from a later planting date. Check out Brian Howard’s great interview with Mike McGrath in the Philadelphia City Paper.

Notes for 2011 — Plants on Deck date is May 1.


Plants On Deck

Today was a busy day for the little blue deck. Tomatoes (Black Cherry, Isis Candy, and Gold Nugget made the cut — alas, my Kellogg’s Breakfast and Dwarf Tims didn’t do so well as seedlings and were scrapped), beans, (more) lettuce, carrots, oregano, basil, and orange cosmos were all planted.

Unfortunately, Philly’s expecting a week of rain and evening lows in the upper 40’s; so it’s not necessarily ideal, but the tomato seedlings were straining at the seams of their seeding container. And this gardener was sick of hardening. If you can wait until next weekend, by all means, do. Anyway, in preparation for the big day the seedlings were doused fairly generously with water so they’d come out of their containers fairly easily — which one hopes will help reduce transplanting trauma.

The cucumber, pepper, and melon seedlings will join rejoin their friends in a week or two, after the evening lows have risen a tad.

Black Cherry Tomato Seedling
Black Cherry and the Knife

This black cherry gets to call the container filled with 28 lbs of Organic Mechanics dirt home for the next 5 months. The soil acclimated to outdoor temperatures for a week and was augmented with a few eggshells for additional calcium, and a few handfuls of worm castings were mixed in as well. To help the seedling free itself from the bonds of its nursery, run the knife around the perimeter of the container and…

Transplanting Black Cherry
Free the Tomato!

…Gently shake the seedling into your hand.

Black Cherry Strips Down

Tomatoes are one of the few fruits (or vegetables) that actually like to be planted below the soil line. That is, below the point where your seedling meets its original dirt. Strip the leaves that will be buried from the stem and set your seedling deep into its pot. This strengthens the primary stalks and roots will sprout from the submerged stem.

Planted Black Cherry Tomato Seedling

Here, the black cherry has been surrounded with luscious seaweed-enriched mulch (to prevent splash back and, one hopes, diseases) and lettuce seeds have been planted around the perimeter of the container.

Planted Black Cherry Tomato Seedling
Caged Black Cherry

Walking on Eggshells

calcium enriched soilCome rain or shine, POD’s planting tomatoes this weekend. In an effort to prep the soil as thoroughly as possible, a few crumbled eggshells will lend some calcium to the mix. Just like healthy bones need plenty calcium to maintain structural integrity, so do healthy tomatoes (and peppers).

Tomatoes (and peppers) have a nasty habit of coming down with blossom end rot, a disgusting-looking rotting/fungus that rears its ugly head at the blossom end of the fruit or vegetable as its beginning to mature.

Now, the whole eggshell-into-mix may well be an old wives’ tale, but someday POD will be an old, old wife.

Chard Stones

Swiss Chard SeedsThe Swiss chard may be a few weeks late in finding a home in the dirt (they probably could  have been planted a couple of weeks ago), but they’re in.

Because leafy greens love nitrogen, the soil has been dosed with about four or five tablespoons of nitrogen-rich coffee grounds — something that’s always in abundance around here. And, because chard isn’t as picky as other vegetables, the soil is half fresh organic and half sterilized organic from last year’s supply.

Although the seed packets will instruct you to thin the seedlings to 4-6″ apart, those with limited space will probably do just fine with 3″ between plants.

Just Like Christopher Walken

“The car dropped [Christopher] Walken off at the West Side apartment he shares with his wife of forty-one years, the casting agent Georgianne Walken. In the kitchen, he pointed at an avocado pit suspended by toothpicks in a glass of water, a green taproot reaching downward. “Look, my avocado is growing,” he said. “Isn’t that great? It’s been sitting there for two months, then it did that.”

From The New Yorker, Talk of the Town, by Peter Stevenson

It looks like POD’s in good company. This fella was started back in January.
Sprouting Avocado Pit

Prepping Pots

Soooooo close. So close. The tomato and cucumber seedlings are itching to be planted, but the Philadelphia overnight lows for the next week or so appear to be in the upper 40s. This may be going out on a limb here, but that’s just too nippy for POD’s tomatoes. Not only that, but today’s gusts of up to 25 mph put a damper on plans for a day-long hardening session. Grrr.

Instead of despairing, pots (most of them) have been prepped.  What does that mean, you ask? Well, they’ve been washed with soapy water, rinsed well, and their drainage holes have been inspected. A 2-3″ layer of Styrofoam drainage nuggets were placed in the bottom of each container (ask your office computer geek to save the nasty stuff for you — they always seem to have a stockpile somewhere) and then the yummy-smelling, full-of-promise dirt was dumped in.

Alas, to the long-suffering husband’s dismay, we’re about 2 cubic feet and one 14-lb bag of Organic Mechanic (blast those stupid tiny bags) shy of a full deck.

Pots On Deck
Pots On Deck
Drainage Holes
Drainage Holes
Evil Styrofoam
Evil Styrofoam
Organic Mechanic Dirt

(Next year, POD will require 8 cubic feet of dirt.)

Dirt Bags


Dirt’s here! Over 5 cubic feet of organic potting soil, 5 lbs. of worm casings, and one cubic foot of seaweed enriched mulch have made their way to South Philly. Although POD desperately wanted to try the local Organic Mechanic soil, nothing larger than a wee 14 lb. bag could be procured. So, the D. Landreth black cherry tomatoes will enjoy that while the rest of the deck will have to settle for the less expensive Coast of Maine potting soil.

And, for those of you keeping track: $100 for seeds, peat pots, and seaweed fertilizer and $65 for dirt, mulch, and worm poop. Here’s hoping for a fruitful harvest. (4/24 next year buy more like 8 or 9 cu feet).