It’s Not Too Late! Hurry!

Have room for a 5-gallon bucket somewhere? 6-10 hours of sunlight? Good.

Plant your tomatoes in 5-7 gallon buckets or containers. They’re not pretty, but white painter’s buckets can be purchased inexpensively from any hardware store. They’re light (an important consideration for roof deck gardening), cheap, and reflect the sun’s most brutally hot rays.

If you live in the greater Philadelphia region (or are a zone 7ish gardener) Anytime between May 10 and mid-June will probably work for planting your crop. Nurseries and farmers’ markets are still selling plants so get going. (Try to find plants without any blossoms — fruiting takes a lot of energy and transplanting large plants can be fairly traumatic. To the plant. Not you. The plant will be better off in the long run)

Save those evil Styrofoam pellets and use them as a drainage layer. (They’re light and it’s gratifying reuse of a non-biodegradable material — you can even save them for use the following year.) Or, you can break large pieces of packing Styrofoam in more manageable pieces. A 2-3 inch drainage layer seems to work pretty well.

If your plant is small (say, 5-10″), bury 60-75% of the plant beneath the soil line. This will make for a much stronger plant. Snip the leaves that will be buried before submerging them in your clean, organic soil. If your plant is pretty well-established (as most are by now) you just need to make sure you nestle the plant deep enough into your container that the new soil line at least matches the existing one.

Stake them. (see RIP Poblano)

Cage them.

Water them.

Feed them.

Hope for the best.

Tomato Genetics

The lessons learned about tomatoes never seem to end. For example, just the other day POD learned that some heirlooms have a wilty gene. Who knew? Evidently, this simply means you need to water them more frequently than their brethren who lack said gene — perhaps something container gardeners should seek to avoid. And, I see rumors of tomatoes — heirlooms — that are genetically resistant to fungus.

I really, really want these tomatoes.

Does anyone have a list of varietys that do not contain the wilty gene and do contain the two genes responsible for fostering an immunity against fungus?

Drink Milk

Tomato Milk
Tomato Milk

Last year POD’s Nebraska Wedding suffered from (among other things) a nasty case of blossom end rot. Wherein the lovely half-formed fruits suddenly blackened at the, well, blossom end and rotted. Exactly as the difficult-to-parse name would suggest.

Since then I learned that tomatoes need calcium to keep their cell walls strong and healthy. So this Chocolate Cherry is soaking up a diluted mixture of soured skim milk (why use good milk?) and water. This particular batch was about 40% milk and 60% water but it’s not all that fussy.  Well, calcium and warm soil. So practice patience, if you can, and wait for temperatures to stabilize.

Supposedly tomatoes also enjoy a seaweed snack every now and again. Since South Philadelphia isn’t quite close enough to the Jersey shore to use seaweed as mulch, I ground up some dried seaweed from the Number One Asian supermarket, dumped it in the milk solution and called it a day. We shall see.

Bloomtime

Tumbling Tom Blooms
Tumbling Tom Blooms

Woo! We have lift-off! The Tumbling Tom is looking healthy (thus far) and is sporting a stylish little flower.

Tom is the only tomato planted in a 2-gallon (ish) bucket and hangs from the deck railing. The rest are ensconced in containers that are 5-gallons or larger.

This cherry tomato is supposedly perfect for container environments as it “weeps” — that is it drapes artistically over the sides of its sunny, east-facing South Philadelphia home. We’ll just have to make sure we eat all the fruits before they drop on the roof of our neighborhood  garage.

Bird Chili Blooms
Bird Chili Blooms

Looks like our wicked hot Thai bird chili is ready to go, too.  I started this from seed back in February. This sucker is awfully prolific and we tend to toss them right into the jar of prik nam pla (Thai chili/fish sauce) we have perpetually stewing in the fridge.

The recipe couldn’t be simpler and it keeps forever: finely chop 1/2 c. bird chilies (any super hot tiny chili will do) + 1 c. fish sauce. Remember to wear rubber gloves while chopping the chilies. Combine the chilies and the fish sauce in a jar, shake. Refrigerate. Refresh ingredients as necessary. Spice stuff up. That’s it. Many thanks to Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid of Hot Sour Salty Sweet fame.

Tough Tomato Love

Since POD is new to the scene, an opportunity to rattle on about growing tomatoes from seed was missed. Consider yourselves spared.  Still, it’s not too late to share a word or two about hardening-0ff. Honestly, it’s not something I’d been patient enough to do properly before. For those of you in cooler climates than Philly and whose tomato seedlings are still snugly secured in the safety of your home, you’ll want to make sure you give the little guys time to acclimatize to a life on the mean streets. Or deck or patio or whatever.

First, be patient. (Which is really not something for which POD is known.) Make sure your average low temperature for the next 10 days hovers around the mid-50s. Then start by placing your seed trays outside, in the shade, for a few afternoons in a row. Remember to take them inside in the evenings. Then, expose them to a few hours of sunshine  and spring breezes for increasing lengths of time. After five days or so you can leave them out overnight.  After 8-12 days they should have gotten over the culture shock and have readied themselves for life as a plant on deck.

Wait for a cloudy day and then transplant your seedling deeply into the soil — only about 25-30% of the plant should be above the soil line. This will strengthen the plant immeasurably. Then, cross your fingers and hope the weather holds.

UPDATE: What’s with these cold temps???? 47 degrees tonight, really? In late May?

Healthy (for now) Tomato Plants

Oh, the tomato. You know, Philly’s not so far from Jersey — you’d think I could grow a decent tomato. I have, but only rarely. I’m convinced it was a fluke. In the coming weeks you’ll see plenty of posts detailing my obsession with the wicked fruit. Here’s proof that the lovely Isis Candy is, for now, healthy. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Isis Candy5_09 This year,  rather than attempting full-size fruits (for a bevy of reasons that I’m sure I’ll moan about later), I’m focusing on a variety of cherry tomatoes including a yellow Tumbling Tom, Chocolate Cherry, Gold Nugget, and the lovely Isis. Although I generally try to buy my seeds locally I found a nice selection at Territorial Seeds.

Does anyone have any tomato-rearing suggestions for me?